[Relevant document: Fourth Report of the Transport Committee, Road pricing, HC 789.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered smart road pricing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank the House of Commons Library, the Transport Committee, whose report is tagged on to the debate, members of the Greater London Authority, and many others who helped with the research ahead of the debate. I also thank Members of all parties who have shown an interest in speaking in today’s debate, and I look forward to hearing everyone’s contributions.
Before I bite into some of the meat of this policy, I want to briefly set out some of the constituency context in Carshalton and Wallington. The London borough of Sutton is ranked 29th out of the 33 London boroughs for transport infrastructure, and that includes the City of London. Sutton is the only borough in London that does not have access to a London Underground station, a London Overground station or Crossrail, nor it is not on the map for Crossrail 2. According to a report from City Hall, Sutton is the least-funded transport borough in the entire city. As we might expect, given that it is on the geographical fringes of London, Sutton has some of the highest private car ownership and usage rates in the capital. Put bluntly, Carshalton and Wallington residents rely heavily on cars for their work and personal life, and any policy that impacts on road transportation impacts on my constituency and constituents. As we work towards achieving our net zero ambitions, we must ensure that we strike the right balance for our constituents in order to create truly sustainable alternatives to high-emission modes of transport.
Road pricing—or road charging, as it is sometimes known—essentially involves making a direct charge for the use of a road or network of roads. Sometimes that charge is based on certain factors, such as the distance travelled, the time at which one is travelling, or the environmental impact of the journey, which relates to the vehicle itself. Of course, road pricing is not a brand-new concept. Much of the modern road network in my constituency of Carshalton and Wallington—I feel like I am going back to my maiden speech here, but I hope the House will indulge me—was built around historic toll roads. The Carshalton to Ewell turnpike was built in the 1750s and is still an arterial route going through my constituency today. It is known better as the A232, Carshalton Road, Croydon Road or the high street, which is an historic road that passes between the picturesque Carshalton ponds and All Saints Church, which has been in situ for over 1,000 years.
Thankfully, the toll road, like so many others, has been consigned to the dustbin of history. However, we are seeing calls for a resurrection of road charging across not just London but much of the UK. Londoners will know very well about the congestion charge and the ultra low emission zones, which I get regular complaints about from constituents, who describe the impact that such zones have on their journeys in and out of the capital. We have also recently heard about potential plans for a Greater London boundary charge, which would mean that those living just outside London, rather than Londoners specifically, would pay between £3.50 and £5.50 to enter the capital. That was heavily lobbied against and has now been taken off the table as a potential option.
As part of the consultation, however, Londoners are now being asked to share their views on extending the ultra low emission zone from the North and South Circulars, to which it has recently been expanded, to the whole of Greater London by the end of next year. However, it does not stop there. Plans were also announced in a report commissioned by the Mayor of London, which recommended the introduction of smart road pricing in London as early as mid-2020. That was further reinforced by an exchange that took place between the Mayor of London and Assembly members during a question time session about Transport for London’s finances.
In order for us to have a comprehensive debate on this issue, it is important to distinguish between road pricing in its broadest form and smart road pricing specifically. Smart road pricing uses technology to charge users based on the following factors: the distance driven; vehicle characteristics, such as the type, its emissions, the weight, the axles and so on; the time of day, day of the week or even time of the year that the car is being driven; and the segment of the road being used. In very simplistic terms, smart road pricing could take a number of forms. It could look like a taximeter fitted into private vehicles, with a charge sent directly to City Hall, or other regional authority, every time it is used. More likely in the early stages of this technology, it could look like a smartphone app, which allows the car to be started when someone wants to use it.
Smart road pricing has become an area of interest in discussions around net zero, although at City Hall discussions have predominantly focused on its potential for TfL finances. The main sources of revenue that fund roads and other Government spending are vehicle excise duty and fuel duty, which are predicted to decline due to decarbonisation, essentially the replacement of the internal combustion with electric vehicles. That revenue represents about 1.5% of UK GDP, and zero-emission transport has the potential to wipe out that funding. I appreciate that that presents a dilemma. How do we decarbonise transportation while continuing to raise money and invest in roads and other public spending commitments?
I can see why the Select Committee on Transport has already done work in this area. I will not dive into every detail of its report, but I want to highlight its findings. The Committee made a number of recommendations, including that smart road pricing must be a national project, not a regional one. It concluded that we must wait for technology to be ready to implement such a project. It stressed that there must be no additional costs to drivers, compared with current fuel and vehicle excise duty. Most importantly, for my constituents at least, it must be subject to public consultation. That is serious for my constituents, because they have experienced so many examples of schemes being implemented when they have said no in a consultation. If we want to have faith that the public’s views will be listened to, that simply must not be allowed to happen.
We are presented with a glaring problem. If we price people out of their vehicles, without potential alternatives available, we will not just be hitting people’s pockets by charging them more to use private vehicles; we could be costing them their livelihoods. They might no longer be able to afford to use their private cars, with no alternative available. Rather than looking into this scheme, I urge the Government and regional authorities to revisit their public transport offer. I hope the Minister can tell us how the Government will address the dilemma and future-proof our road networks in a way that is fair to all road users.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I welcome this debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing it. He will be interested to know that the Liberal Democrat leader of Sutton Borough Council would agree with many of the points he has raised. She wrote to the Mayor recently about this issue, highlighting the points raised by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington about the lack of public transport in Sutton and how that needs to be addressed before further plans for road pricing can be progressed.
The hon. Gentleman’s constituency and mine face many of the same issues. My constituency also lies in the suburban outskirts of London and has relatively high car usage. I certainly sympathise with some of his remarks and concerns about taxes imposed on car users. My constituents also have reservations about the ultra low emission zone, which has been in place since late October and cuts right through the middle of my constituency. I welcome any move to improve air quality, but it has created issues by cutting people off from essential services such as Mortlake crematorium and Townmead recycling centre.
Despite my reservations about the arbitrary boundary divisions of the ULEZ, I firmly believe that action needs to be taken to dissuade car usage. I am strong advocate for the implementation of a simpler, fairer and more sustainable road pricing solution. London is extremely congested, our air quality is poor, and current levels of car usage cannot be maintained if we are to achieve our net zero goals. A report published by the Greater London Authority earlier this year found that car traffic must reduce by at least 27% across the capital, in order to achieve net zero by 2030.
There is a cross-party consensus that some kind of road pricing scheme that charges motorists on a per-mile basis would be beneficial, especially in London. It now seems inevitable that such a scheme will be implemented in due course. Current taxes on fuel and vehicle ownership will raise nearly £37 billion this year, but those revenues will dwindle as fossil fuels are replaced by zero-emission alternatives. The need for change is pressing if the Government are to retain current levels of tax revenue while also reducing toxic air pollution and cutting congestion.
The majority of road users would be set to benefit financially from smart road pricing. Those who are not high mileage users would bear only a small cost if other road charges and vehicle excise duty were removed.
The hon. Member is making some good points about London, but I urge her to think about the solution recommended by the Transport Committee that this should be at national level. Certainly, those people who live in rural communities and counties outside metropolitan areas could be very adversely affected by per-mile road pricing. It could, in fact, put people out of work; it could affect the ability of families to take their children to school and all sorts of other issues. I urge her to look at that and consider it in the suggestions and remarks she makes to the Minister.
The hon. Member raises an important point. What we are trying to achieve is a certain amount of equity. He is absolutely right about the contrast between rural and urban car usage and ownership. Although my remarks focus on what might be best for my constituents, I accept that it would be an entirely different matter in his part of the country. Per-mile road usage charging may not be the most equitable solution across the country. Certainly, for my constituents, a per-mile scheme would mean less cost than now in terms of the taxes they pay on petrol and vehicle excise duty.
Polling undertaken by YouGov for the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2019 suggested that a pay-as-you-go model of road pricing has popular support—47% of British adults stated that they would support a pay-as-you-go model if it replaced both vehicle excise duty and fuel duty, and just 23% opposed. For those living in urban areas, the first means of transport should automatically be public transport but, presently, in constituencies such as Richmond Park, and Carshalton and Wallington, public transport is both underfunded and unreliable.
It is not right that those who use cars simply because they have no other practical way of getting around should face large increases in taxes. Any new road pricing scheme must also be matched with adequate investment in public transport. In London, that begins with a long-term funding settlement for Transport for London. Constituencies on the outskirts of London require a central London-style public transport system that allows my constituents and others to travel across the borough and between neighbouring boroughs easily and quickly, in order to decrease car usage.
In addition to public transport options being made available, they must also be accessible and affordable. This month, the Government have increased rail fares by 3.8%, with another increase set for July. The Liberal Democrats have proposed to scrap this rail fare increase and to further implement a five-year freeze on fares to encourage people in urban areas out of cars and on to trains. If residents in urban areas are properly supported to reduce car usage through increased availability of affordable public transport, a smart road pricing scheme can offer a fair alternative to current vehicle and fuel duties. Such a scheme will be coming in some form. In principle, I think we can all agree it is necessary.
The conversation must now focus on how we can best support our constituents to reduce car usage and to ensure that the design of any road pricing scheme is given adequate consideration. Consultation must be undertaken with key stakeholders to avoid unfairly disadvantaging car users with no other practical means of transportation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this important and increasingly topical debate.
Finding new ways to justify charging motorists to drive their cars is becoming increasingly fashionable among certain politicians in this country, especially in London. Just last week, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a consultation on expanding the ultra low emission zone to the Greater London boundary. He claims, of course, that it is to do with air quality and congestion, but it is not.
I am holding up a map taken from Transport for London’s website at the time when it was investigating setting up the ultra low emission zone. There is a colour code. Yellow is the legal limit for air pollution in London. The worse the air gets, the redder or more orange the map gets; the better the air gets, the bluer or greener it gets. As hon. Members can see, bad air quality is located in central London, around Heathrow airport and on some of the trunk roads into and out of those areas. There is not bad air quality outside the North and South Circulars or in outer London.
The expansion of the zone is actually about raising revenue—not surprising, given the financial mess that Transport for London is in. It is true, of course, that the pandemic hurt Transport for London grievously, and it would not be sensible to deny that. However, a catalogue of blunders preceded the pandemic, such as the unaffordable fares freeze, which, by its own calculation, cost Transport for London at least £640 million although likely much more. There was the failure to maximise the commercial revenue for Transport for London and of course the complete mess that Sadiq Khan made on the oversight of Crossrail. The Mayor’s TfL business plan was predicated and extremely reliant on the revenue that Crossrail was going to deliver if it was on time and on budget. But thanks to the Mayor’s failure to adequately scrutinise Crossrail despite his role as chairman of Transport for London, which is the overseeing body, TfL is now short of billions of pounds of fares revenue that it would otherwise have raised.
Expanding the ultra low emission zone to the Greater London boundary will have shattering consequences for people living in outer London. It will cost the owner of an older vehicle who uses it every day £4,500, even before they have paid for fuel or road tax. That will hit everybody, of course, but the poorest Londoners—those less able to replace their vehicles—will be hit hardest.
I just want to challenge the hon. Gentleman on the point that the charge will hit everybody. Obviously, I have experience of ULEZ coming into my constituency. It applies only to diesel vehicles and petrol vehicles over a certain age. I was worried about the impact, but I have to say that the number of people actually affected has been much less than I thought.
The hon. Lady is correct. The charge will hit petrol vehicles registered in 2006 or before; as I just said, poorer Londoners will own those. It will hit diesel vehicles registered in 2014 or before. A car registered in 2014 is not particularly old. I had a diesel vehicle that was registered in 2012, which I got rid of the minute Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London. I knew that the charge was coming, that it would be unaffordable and that there would soon be no second-hand market for the vehicle. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford a newer car, but many people in London will not be able to, and the charge will hit them. The point that I have made using the map in my hand is that the charge will be hitting them completely unnecessarily.
There will be a devastating hit on an economy struggling to recover from the pandemic—for no reason. This is the thin end of the wedge. We know that Sadiq Khan’s ultimate ambition is to introduce road pricing in London. He has not hidden that. The letter to every London MP accompanying the announcement of the ultra low emission zone actually said that his ultimate objective was to replace all forms of charge in London with a road pricing scheme. The Mayor’s transport strategy of 2018 says that he will give consideration to the development of
“the next generation of road user charging systems. These could replace schemes such as the Congestion Charge, Low Emission Zone and Ultra Low Emission Zone. More sophisticated road user charging…could be used to contribute to the achievement of the policies and proposals in this strategy…to help reduce congestion on the road network and support efficient traffic movement. In doing so, the Mayor will consider the appropriate technology for any future schemes, and the potential for a future scheme that reflects distance, time, emissions, road danger and other factors in an integrated way.”
In the same document, which is revealing of the Mayor’s thinking, he says that people need to address
“the fundamentally inadequate and unfair way in which road use is paid for in London, with motorists paying too little, and in effect being subsidised by public transport fare payers. Measures such as road user charging (where appropriate), land value capture and the devolution of financial powers to local level are essential to delivering an efficient and fair funding system.”
I want to concentrate on the claim that motorists are subsidised by public transport users. That claim simply does not stack up. Setting aside the fact that most Londoners use a mixture of travel modes and cannot easily be categorised as motorist, pedestrian or cyclist, it is notable that at the time at which the strategy was launched, the Transport for London annual bus subsidy amounted to £722 million and, in addition, Transport for London provided in excess of £318 million for concessionary travel across its network, taking the level of publicly funded subsidy to well over £1 billion per annum. By contrast, London’s 2.6 million drivers were collectively paying £1.9 billion in motoring taxes, so I do not see how the Mayor can make the claim that motorists are being subsidised by public transport users. It is actually very much the reverse.
For many people, driving represents freedom. We should not be sanguine about the state seeking to undermine people’s ability to get into their own car and drive directly to wherever they want to go. Owning or having access to a car can significantly increase an individual’s travel opportunities, but road pricing is a policy that seeks to curb, undermine or remove that.
I would like to make a further point regarding freedom and it touches on a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington made in his introductory remarks. The technology required to make this form of road pricing work would almost inevitably have to include some form of global navigation satellite system technology. In other words, there would have to be in every vehicle a black box that would be capable of identifying exactly where each car had been located at any given time. That creates both practical and civil liberties considerations.
In practical terms, there is the question of how the technology would be imposed on those driving in London—if indeed we are talking about road pricing solely in London. Currently, some British motorists choose to install a black box in order to get cheaper car insurance, but a situation in which the technology was mandatory would be very different. How would the Mayor ensure that anyone who wished to drive in London had a black box in their car? Londoners drive around London, but people from outside London also drive across the Greater London boundary, so how would that work? Trying to introduce road pricing in Greater London alone, rather than in the whole of the UK, would be, as has been touched on by colleagues, fraught with difficulties for that very reason. In terms of civil liberties, many people would be very uncomfortable with the idea that the state might be able to track their every move via their car. As yet, that issue has not been addressed by anyone advocating any form of road pricing.
Therefore there are significant economic, practical and civil liberties problems with this idea, but it is the impact on people’s everyday lives that merits the highest consideration. If Sadiq Khan tries to force Londoners out of their cars by increasing the cost of driving, he will inevitably catch those who have little choice but to drive. Even if there are exemptions for specific individuals —for example, blue badge holders—there will still be ordinary Londoners who need to drive but can no longer afford to do so. For a great many of my constituents, in common with those of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington, a car is an essential feature of their everyday lives, not least because there are few genuine alternatives for many journeys. In much of outer London and particularly in south London, the choice for those using public transport is the train or the bus. Trains are mostly a radial option; they are very useful for travelling into central London, but they are of little use if people want to make an orbital journey. Buses are much more useful for orbital journeys, but by their very nature, they are both relatively slow and often indirect. Many Londoners feel that their car is their best option for journeying outside London. That is particularly the case when the public transport alternative would involve travelling into central London and then out again. Road pricing, even if applied only to the London-based section of a journey, would increase the cost of those journeys without doing anything to improve them.
In conclusion, it is not a surprise that the current Mayor of London would prefer to squeeze more money out of Londoners and, ideally, outer Londoners, who are less likely to vote for him. Nor is it a surprise that he should seek to dress this cash grab up with high-minded justifications about air quality and emissions. Such a policy is fraught with difficulties and has so many downsides that it should be a non-starter, but if the Mayor of London decides to proceed with expanding the ultra low emission zone or, worse, introduce per-mile road charging, the Government should step in and stop him.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair once again, Sir Charles. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing the debate. He started by making a strong point—I am not sure whether it was about his constituency or whether it was about Sutton being the only London borough without a tube station. I have sympathy with that, growing up and living for most of my life in Renfrew, which is the largest town in Scotland without a train station. I thought that he made a powerful contribution at the start of the debate.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) said that the case for change was pressing, if we are to maintain taxation levels and reduce road transport’s carbon footprint; Members will hear from my speech that that is something I wholeheartedly agree with. She also referenced the report by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which means I do not have to; for the purposes of time, I am grateful for that.
The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who is no longer in his place, made an important point about the difference between rural and urban. Any scheme that came in would have to take that difference into account, and there would have to be variations or exceptions for those in rural areas for that very reason.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) clearly had issues with TfL and the Mayor of London, but he made a very stark point about the £4,500 cost before running costs of any other expansions of ULEZ. I should declare that I am a member of the Transport Committee, which the hon. Member referenced in terms of road pricing. It is true: we said recently that there is no viable alternative to road pricing moving forward—certainly that we can see at the moment. The hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich also reiterated the point that the scheme must be national. Unless he meant Scotland having a national scheme, that is something I have a slight disagreement with, but I will come on to that later.
If road pricing is to be workable, it needs to be part of a wholesale review and replacement of our complex taxation system. The current arrangements are increasingly not fit for purpose in the 21st century, with a system that—apart from some tweaks and amendments over the decades—is, at its core, the same system that has been in place for nearly a century.
Net zero and reducing carbon emissions are obviously policies that go far beyond transport. They straddle all aspects of our society. Reducing car usage, improving public transport and developing active travel as a real alternative to private transport will have a huge impact on us all and on how we live our lives. Getting people out of cars is intrinsically linked to improvements in public transport, which, in turn, helps to support our town and city centres; again, in turn, that helps to develop local economies and provide better employment in our communities.
With private cars accounting for around 40% of transport-related emissions, bringing down levels of car usage is a key strand in the Scottish Government’s drive towards a net zero society. Their target—which, I admit, is hugely ambitious—is to reduce overall car kilometres by 20% by the end of this decade. There is no doubt that it is a tough target, but it will result in huge gains in carbon reduction if it can be met.
To salami slice road pricing as something that can be leveraged to promote those reductions while leaving other policy levers in the hands of the DFT and Treasury —as we have seen with buses, aviation and, notably, trains, for the last 20 years or so—is a recipe for delay and the danger that our large-scale ambitions will not be met. To have a situation where portions of charging and taxation policy are devolved while some remain at Westminster is a recipe for confusion and, above all, being unable to fully realise the potential that could be unleashed with the full devolution of powers over motoring taxes to the Scottish Parliament—the Minister probably did not expect me to say anything less.
Sales of electric vehicles are at record levels, despite—I would say—the UK Government’s policy at times. While we have some way to go to match the astonishing progress in countries such as Norway, the trend is clear: EVs are replacing internal combustion engines and, by 2032, every car sold will have to be zero-emission. As that switch happens, the revenues from fuel duties will drop at an ever-increasing pace; as overall emissions from private vehicles drop, so too will revenue from vehicle excise duty based on CO2 emissions without further reform. The Transport Committee heard evidence that, without action, taxation revenues from motoring will drop to zero by 2040 if UK targets for net zero are met. Clearly, that is neither sustainable nor healthy for road users or our wider economy.
I do not pretend that the transition to a modern taxation regime will not involve a real and sometimes difficult national debate and conversation about vehicle taxation and its impact on motorists and other road users; one has only to look at the debate around a workplace parking levy in Scotland at the moment. However, the alternative is a long-term disaster on our roads, for our environment and for our wider economy. The transition must include: as I said, the full devolution of power over motoring taxation—all taxation, if in the Minister’s power, but certainly motoring taxation—to the Scottish Parliament.
The enhanced incentivisation of the extra grants for home chargers, a scheme whose scope the UK is inexplicably slashing in April, and interest-free loans, along with significant investment in much more comprehensive electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Scotland, compared with most of England, serve to highlight the differences in policy and, more importantly, the urgency with which it is delivered. Without the taxation powers to tie together the changes in duty revenue, however, along with the wider policy objectives of the move to net zero, the Scottish Government are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. Yet still, over the past 10 or 20 years, they have outperformed the UK Government on all those metrics.
Transferring full control over vehicle and motoring taxation to the devolved Administrations will allow policy to reflect the different pace at which things are moving. On nearly all indices, Scotland is outstripping the rest of the UK in the transition to net zero, and yet the fiscal and financial framework in which the Scottish Government have to operate is stuck in the last century. It takes little to no account of the different priorities of the respective Governments.
To conclude, the Chancellor has made a commitment in writing to the Scottish Government to engage with Scottish and other devolved Governments on motoring taxation. I hope that the Minister will get the ball rolling for colleagues as quickly as possible, to ensure that serious discussions can take place with the devolved Administrations on how and when those powers can be transferred to Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont as timeously as possible. What might work for Greater London—Greater London has been mentioned a lot in this debate—cannot be copied and pasted into Scotland or Wales. To sum up, I hope that the Minister will provide us with an update on that proposed engagement.
Today alone, we have seen action by the Irish Government, temporarily cutting fuel duty by 15 cents and 20 cents for petrol and diesel, respectively—to help the haulage industry and to keep the cost of living down. Whether that should happen here is a debate for another day, but it shows how a Government with the will and the power to act quickly in the face of changing circumstances can take real action on motoring and haulage costs. Road pricing and the renewal of modern motoring taxation will give Governments here in Westminster and in Edinburgh the opportunity to respond and react far more nimbly and responsively to such challenges and to provide the kind of support needed by road users and industry alike. I urge the Minister to speed her colleagues along in delivering the road taxation system of the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing this important debate. It comes at an extremely important time, following the COP26 conference and a renewal of global efforts to reduce our reliance on the use of fossil fuels. I also take this opportunity to thank the much respected Transport Committee for its work exploring the issue and its recommendations. Some hon. Members have concentrated their remarks on London—rightly so, as they are fighting on behalf of their constituents. However, the problem is a much wider national one, and the solution required must also be national.
The Labour party welcomed the Government commitment to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, for which we had been calling for some time. As electric vehicles become more accessible to consumers and charging infrastructure improves, the prevalence of electric cars and vans on our roads will increase sharply, in particular as we approach 2030, thereby impacting on tax revenue. We need to look carefully at funding shortfalls because of the increase in electric vehicles, but we must ensure that grants and support schemes are available for those making the change.
Grants for electric vehicles were cut twice last year, falling by half. The upper price limit for eligible models also fell twice, first to £35,000 and then to £32,000. That is down from £50,000 in March. Similar grants for small vans also fell. As someone who made the transition to an electric car a couple of years ago, I personally attest to the benefit, both environmentally and financially. Serious concerns, however, remain on the lack of charging points, with only a fifth of what will be needed by 2025 currently installed. Manufacturers, planners and council officials have all been critical about the slow progress in providing charging points. Last year, a survey conducted by the Local Government Association of 84 local authorities found a lack of coherent strategic direction at the national level and no vision of clarity on the role that local authorities play in delivering charging points.
The Competition and Markets Authority has determined that a third of households will rely on public infrastructure—those without access to a drive or a garage, where installation of a charging point is more difficult. It has criticised the roll-out as too slow and said that it has resulted in a postcode lottery. The analysis shows that of the 5,700 charging points, only 1,000 are outside London. For example, the total number of charging points per head in Yorkshire and the Humber is a quarter of those in London.
I want to draw attention to several aspects of the report, which the Labour party welcomes. We welcome the recommendations, mentioned by the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who is no longer in his place, to consider the impact on vulnerable groups and those in rural areas who are more reliant on their own personal vehicles. We also welcome the report’s inclusion of the need to encourage people to use active travel or public transport options.
There are some aspects of smart road pricing that I ask the Minister to address in her remarks. Smart road pricing would rely on the installation of a telematics device in vehicles. As the hon. Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) mentioned, people may not actually wish for one to be installed as they are fearful of a Big Brother society. How will the Government address this balance of privacy and data collection? In implementing a new scheme, it is important that motorists are part of a conversation and do not feel that a new scheme costs them more. The Government must ensure that any proposals do not add to the already desperate cost of living crisis faced by people across our country. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that any proposals brought forward are part of a wider conversation?
Finally, another consideration is that some schemes around the world have higher rates for driving during peak times or when using arterial routes. No conversation on the future of clean transport and road pricing can be had without considering public transport, as hon. Members have rightly mentioned. Just a year ago, the Prime Minister and the Transport Secretary launched the “Bus Back Better” strategy. They pledged a great bus service for everyone, everywhere. They promised it would be one of the great acts of levelling up. That was the ambition. The £3 billion of transformation funding was supposed to
“level up buses across England towards London standards”
“main road services in cities and towns to run so often that you don’t need a timetable”.
There would be
“better services in the evenings and weekends”
“simple, cheap flat fares that you can pay with a contactless card, with daily and weekly price capping across operators, rail and tram too.”
In reality, across the length and breadth of our country and particularly in the north-west, many are counting the cost of broken promises. A letter sent to local transport authority directors by the Department for Transport on 11 January made clear that the budget for the transformation of buses—a pot from which local regions can bid for funds—has now shrunk from £3 billion to just £1.2 billion for the next three years. Towns and cities across the country have put forward an ambitious blueprint to use buses and rail to connect people to jobs, families and opportunity, and to tackle the climate crisis in the process. They have plans, despite the challenges, to completely overhaul and reregulate the bus network as part of the bus service improvement plan.
Labour leaders in power in towns and cities nationwide have real ambition to reverse the decline we have seen under the Tories. They want to build a London-style system and make buses quicker, cheaper, greener and more reliable, but they need a Government that matches their ambition. Now it is becoming clear that, far from matching the ambition of our communities, the Government have pulled the rug from under them. Will the Minister own up and admit what the Transport Secretary will not—that many areas will now not see a single penny of this transformation funding?
Will she detail exactly how much local transport authorities are set to see in transformation funding and will she come clean that there will be areas that will miss out altogether? Will she also commit to building a public transport system that helps our transition to a cleaner, greener economy?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. Despite having the title “Smart Road Pricing”, the debate has been wide-ranging. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn). I know that he has now mentioned his constituency in Parliament well over 100 times; he is an excellent champion for the area, which was clear in the way that he described the challenges it has faced.
I turn to some of the measures that were raised, almost in reverse order. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), veered on to the subject of electric vehicle charging. That is not strictly the subject of the debate, but with your permission, Sir Charles, I will briefly explain that we have 27,000 public chargers in the UK, of which 5,200 are rapid chargers. Project Rapid would see a minimum of six rapid chargers of 150 kW or more at all 170 motorway service areas in England.
We know that we need 10 times the charging infrastructure that we have at the moment. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the Government’s decision to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. I would like to clarify that that is not a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars; it is a phasing out of their sale from 2030. I accept that the sale of second-hand petrol and diesel cars will continue for many years.
On the subject of road pricing and how we rely on our roads, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) expressed the challenges faced by people who cannot afford to upgrade their car but who desperately need to use it, whether because of their job, their shifts, the route they need to take or where they live in the country. I represent a rural area in the Lake district and my four daughters would not be able to do the jobs they do if they depended on public transport alone, so I have incredible sympathy for people’s need to continue to use cars, whether privately, via car clubs or through other ways that enable people to travel when they need to.
We rely on the roads for journeys not just in cars but on buses. The shadow Minister said that our spending has reduced from £3 billion to £1.2 billion. If he had listened to the debate that I responded to earlier, he would have heard me set out quite clearly how that £3 billion is being used. That was another debate, so I will let him look at that this evening.
I will not, because time does not allow.
There is significant public interest in road pricing and its potential to either enhance or interfere with the way we live our lives. Any proposal must not just be smart about how people really live; it will be about technology too, but the priority is how people get to the places they need to get to.
London already has several road-user charging schemes in operation, introduced by Mayors past and present. These schemes deliver against policy objectives to reduce congestion and tackle air pollution in the capital. Before speaking to the current Mayor’s plans to extend those charges, I will say something about road pricing in local areas more generally.
I thank the Scottish National party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), for the work that he has done on the Transport Committee, which I look forward to speaking to next week. Once again, the Committee has provided a comprehensive report. We certainly appreciated the work that the Committee did on smart motorways, and we really value the time, effort and dedication of its members.
Road pricing is a broad term. It can be applied to any charge levied directly for the use of roads, as opposed to more indirect duties based on vehicle ownership or fuel. Examples of road pricing include tolls for using a specific road, bridge or tunnel; charges designed to reduce congestion or to discourage the use of the most polluting vehicles in a defined area; and methods of charging vehicles according to how far they are driven, at what time and on which road. That includes the smart road pricing we are discussing. To come back to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, road pricing must be done in a way that is fair and does not discriminate against people because they have to travel further due to where they live or the job they do, or because of their ability to upgrade to a cleaner vehicle.
In England, the Department for Transport has policy responsibility for tolls and charging zones, although in most cases such charges are applied and managed by others, such as local highways authorities or private companies. Transport in London is of course devolved to the Mayor of London and Transport for London. That includes decisions on road user charging in the capital. General motoring taxation across the United Kingdom is the responsibility of Her Majesty’s Treasury. As with other taxes, any changes are considered and announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Consequently, I will discuss the position on road pricing only at local level in England, including in London, rather than any potential to apply road pricing nationally.
Road pricing in the UK has taken the form of tolls, congestion charging and low-emission zones. All the tolling operations continue to use toll booths and barriers, which force vehicles to slow or stop to pay with money or an electronic tag in the windscreen. In contrast, charging zones introduced over the last 20 years have relied on cameras and automatic numberplate recognition to record when vehicles enter the zone. Motorists are required to pay online, through an app, by phone or in person at a participating outlet.
A local smart road pricing scheme would involve going a step further, making use of the latest technology to set, administer and enforce a more targeted charging structure. That does not necessarily mean the use of black boxes. As the mother of four daughters who taught them all to drive, I understand some of the challenges of black boxes, or telematics more generally. However, one option—it is not the only option—would be to use in-vehicle technology to record aspects of a vehicle’s use. For example, the time, distance or place of the journeys made could be recorded and used to calculate the cost of each specific journey. However, that would not be straightforward to implement locally, and not only from the technical and administrative perspective, which alone would be significant.
It would also be important to ensure proper balance between simplicity of use and understanding by motorists, and effective detailed design to unlock the greatest potential traffic management benefits. Any design would need to reflect people’s interests in ensuring fairness, freedom and privacy, and account for issues around the cost of living, supporting small businesses, and helping people.
Last Friday, the Mayor of London confirmed that he has asked TfL to consult on expanding the existing ultra low emission zone London-wide, aiming to move London towards a greener future and net zero carbon emissions by 2030. TfL and the Mayor will need to progress that through public consultation, and I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington said about his disappointment in those consultations seemingly not taking notice of his constituents. I very much hope that they will be listened to.
Back in January, the Mayor of London also said that he is looking at a new kind of road-user charging scheme to implement in London by the end of the decade at the latest. The scheme would look to charge drivers per mile, with different rates depending on how polluting vehicles are, the level of congestion in the area, and access to public transport. The Mayor has said that such a scheme could replace all existing road-user charges, such as the congestion charge and the ULEZ. The technology required for such a scheme means that the earliest date that it could be implemented would be 2025 to 2026. As I have said, transport in London is devolved to the Mayor of London and TfL. That includes decisions on road-user charging.
I conclude by thanking hon. Friends present, and in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington for bringing forward the debate. This is a complex matter, and we do not have answers to the questions at the moment, but I appreciate the willingness of Members present to think about the future of taxation and how the transition from a fossil fuel transport system to a decarbonised economy will work in practice. We are all interested in understanding what new technology can offer to improve traffic management and reduce the impact of road use on the places in which people live and the environment that they love; however, technological capability is certainly not the whole picture, and any proposal for road pricing needs to help people to live their lives and run their businesses well.
I thank all Members for taking part in today’s discussion, which has centred on London. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Gareth Bacon) and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) would agree that we do not get to talk about London very often in this place, so it makes a nice change.
There has been a lot of talk throughout the debate about the environmental benefits of a potential smart road pricing scheme, but to come back to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, the discussion in London is centred very heavily, if not prominently, on TfL’s finances and not on air quality or the environmental impact. The Lib Dem Assembly member who has been pushing for this measure in City Hall did so on a question around TfL’s finances, but I welcome the fact that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), said that he agreed with the Transport Committee that it should be national. I therefore look forward to him telling the Mayor of London that the Labour party does not support his efforts to try to introduce the measure in London alone.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered smart road pricing.