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London: Congestion Charge

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have made a recent assessment of the implementation of Section 295 and Schedule 23 (“Road user charging”) of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

My Lords, implementation of the central London congestion charging scheme, including any extension to the scheme, and associated monitoring are matters for Transport for London and the mayor. The department continues to monitor with interest the impact of the scheme and its development.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he not agree—following the departmental scrutiny to which he referred, I hope that he does—that one aspect of the congestion charge remains unjust? That is the arrangement by which those of us who pay in advance and then for perfectly good reasons sometimes do not enter the congestion charge area have no means of getting a refund or even of transferring the payment to another day. Some people, especially those who pay weekly in advance, suffer seriously from that difficulty. Will the Minister draw that matter to the attention of the mayor?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that it is the mayor's responsibility. Of course I undertake to draw his comments to the attention of the mayor's office.

My Lords, has any progress been made in recovering payment from the embassies in London that have so far declined to pay, in particular the United States?

My Lords, the noble Lord anticipates my answer. It is, rightly, a matter for the mayor, but I shall make certain inquiries.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Transport for London has already said that congestion will increase with the increase in the zone and that there will not be adequate recompense from the extension to the congestion zone? In view of that, what is the Minister's view of road pricing in general and specifically in central London?

My Lords, I am slightly surprised by the noble Baroness's comments on the impact of the western extension. The data presented to us suggest that congestion in the area will fall by about 15 to 20 per cent and that traffic will be reduced by about 13 to 17 per cent, so there will be the beneficial impact of reduced CO2 emissions, particulate emissions and nitrous oxide emissions. On those grounds, the scheme is clearly beneficial. I do not accept at all the noble Baroness's presumptions.

My Lords, what progress are the Government making generally on road pricing, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred, and, in particular, lorry use charging, especially for foreign lorries, which pay nothing to use our roads? The state of repair of those lorries is awful. The latest VOSA report shows that 42.7 per cent of lorries with trailers stopped by VOSA were unroadworthy. That scandal should be tackled.

My Lords, I certainly accept the noble Lord’s concern; the department is giving it close attention. The noble Lord followed up what the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said about national road pricing schemes. We continue to monitor how congestion charging is working. We believe that a national road pricing scheme would be a very significant move forward, but we gain valuable practical experience from local schemes and want to continue monitoring those before we make any further policy developments in that area.

My Lords, as Mr Livingstone has ignored the representations made by Wandsworth Borough Council about the added congestion, the great inconvenience and serious environmental damage that will be caused as traffic from the west is forced to travel several extra miles to cross the river at Chelsea Bridge, have the Government any powers to intervene to prevent that and many other wholly avoidable consequences of an ill thought-out scheme?

My Lords, I know that the party opposite takes exception to the development of congestion charging. It made lots of allegations about the potential impact when the scheme was introduced back in 2003. Many of those attacks have not been found to be absolutely accurate. We think that the scheme is working extremely well and look forward to watching carefully how the extension works.

My Lords, one of the benefits of the congestion charge has been a massive increase in the number of cyclists on the road, which has major environmental benefits. The Department for Transport seems lacking in its promotion of things to do with bicycles, although Transport for London has done a great deal of work. What are the Government doing to educate the Department for Transport in the benefits of bicycling?

My Lords, I thought it was now a given that people were very keen to get on their bike and travel in central London. The Leader of the Opposition is very keen on cycling, as are we. I like cycling; lots of people cycle in Brighton. So, yes, we are very enthusiastic about cycling; we are pleased to see that it is more widespread.

My Lords, did the Minister see the No. 10 website this morning and the number of people who have signed the petition against road pricing, which now stands at 610,000? Will the Government take some notice of that petition, and if not, why not?

My Lords, I look at the No. 10 website from time to time. I always find it an instructive, learning experience. I am aware of the petition to which the noble Lord has referred, but I think we have to look at the bigger picture. Clearly there have been many benefits, not least the increased use of public transport and a reduction in pollution in central London as a result of congestion charging. As I said, we shall continue to monitor and support the scheme as it is.

My Lords, the Minister has not really answered the point made by my noble friend Lady Hanham. The Government announced earlier that they would introduce an enabling Bill on road charging, which somehow seems to have got lost. The Minister might like to comment on that. Surely if they did have such a Bill, it might be better to abandon congestion charging in London and go ahead with road charging, which would levy variable charges in various parts. As the Government are so keen on those charges for London, it would be better to have variable charging according to congestion in that area. Perhaps the Minister could comment properly rather than give an evasive answer.

My Lords, I have not been evasive; I have tried to provide as much policy information as possible. Clearly we have a policy disagreement here. The noble Lord and his party dislike the congestion charge. We think it is working well, and we continue to support the mayor and his efforts.

My Lords, when my noble friend is next in conversation with the Mayor of London, which clearly he needs to be as a result of this exchange, could he ask him how many people will become exempt from paying the congestion charge as a result of the extension of the congestion charge area? It would also be very interesting to know, although I doubt the information is available, how many of those people drive the so-called Chelsea tractors.

My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, could we have more cycle lanes and better policing of cyclists who break the law and behave anti-socially?

My Lords, this is an important issue. I support cycle lanes, as do the Government, and the noble Lord is right to draw attention to enforcement issues.