My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I declare my remote interest in TfL. As a former London Transport employee, I am in receipt of a TfL pension and associated non-cash benefits.
This is a private Bill promoted by Transport for London. It was deposited on 27 November 2006 and ordered to commence in this House. It was subsequently introduced and read a first time on 22 January 2007. The petitioning period expired on 6 February, and I can confirm that no petitions were deposited against it in this House. I am pleased to introduce the Bill to your Lordships’ House for a Second Reading.
The purpose of the Bill is not to provide new powers for TfL to impose tolls on roads but to enable it to make additional provision for the collection and enforcement of tolls pursuant to toll orders made under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. At present, TfL is able to seek authority to charge tolls under a toll order but, although the existing legislation allows for the collection and enforcement of tolls, it does not provide TfL with the most efficient and effective means of doing so. The Bill enables TfL to make provision by order for the collection and enforcement of tolls where it has already been authorised to charge tolls under a toll order made under the New Roads and Street Works Act.
TfL, like any other highway authority, may seek authorisation to charge tolls by making a toll order under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. Such a toll order is subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State. Before the Secretary of State can confirm the order, public notice of it must be given, and persons have the right to object. If the Secretary of State receives an objection from any person he will cause a local inquiry to be held unless, in the circumstances, he is satisfied that it is unnecessary. Where a local inquiry is not held, the Secretary of State must take into account any such objections when deciding whether or not to confirm the toll order.
Those procedural safeguards ensure that interested persons have the opportunity to make representations about the proposed charging of tolls and that their views are properly taken into account by the Secretary of State in determining whether the toll order should come into effect.
The powers in the Bill could be used for any project where TfL has made a toll order under the New Roads and Street Works Act and that toll order has been confirmed by the Secretary of State. However, at present TfL has applied for the confirmation of only one toll order. That toll order relates to the construction of a new bridge, known as Thames Gateway Bridge, which would connect Beckton and Thamesmead. TfL has made a toll order to authorise the charging of tolls over the new bridge to finance its construction. An application has been made by TfL to the Secretary of State for the confirmation of the toll order, together with related applications for planning permission and the other orders needed to authorise the construction of the bridge. Those applications have been the subject of a public local inquiry in Charlton, which was concluded on 3 May 2006, and the Secretary of State's decision on those applications, including the confirmation of the toll order, is awaited.
The Bill seeks to enable TfL to make the current system of collecting and enforcing tolls under TfL toll orders more effective and efficient.
The central London congestion charging scheme is an example of an effective and efficient charging system that allows vehicles to enter the congestion charging zone seamlessly without the driver being required to stop at a booth or barrier to pay the charge. Similarly, if the Thames Gateway Bridge is given the go ahead by the Secretary of State for Transport, it is envisaged that its tolling system will be barrierless, with vehicles passing seamlessly from one side to the other.
The central London congestion charging scheme provides motorists with modern and efficient mechanisms for payment of the charge, including via the internet, the telephone and SMS text messaging. In addition, that system enables TfL to enforce payment by imposing penalties where the congestion charge has not been paid. TfL may issue a penalty charge notice to the owner of a vehicle who has failed to pay; the charge varies depending on whether it is paid early or late. Enforcement measures can be taken by TfL if the owner of the vehicle continues to refuse to pay. Provision is, of course, made for representations, adjudication and appeals in respect of the enforcement measures.
In the collection and enforcement of tolls under toll orders made under the New Roads and Street Works Act, the Bill would provide TfL with similar powers to those in operation for the central London congestion charging scheme. The Bill does not, I stress, give TfL any new powers to toll motorists; it simply enables TfL to provide, by order, for more efficient, effective and simplified means by which tolls can be collected and, where necessary, by which appropriate enforcement action can be taken. The provision of a more efficient means of collection and enforcement of such tolls can only be of benefit to the public purse.
I do not intend to describe the Bill clause by clause, but your Lordships may wish to be made aware of certain important features. The detailed provisions for the collection and enforcement of tolls under a TfL toll order are not set out in the Bill. Such provisions, which would be too lengthy and detailed to be appropriate for primary legislation, will be set out in an order, to be known as a supplemental toll provisions order, made by TfL.
Your Lordships will wish to know that the Bill provides appropriate safeguards to ensure that the power to make a supplemental toll provisions order is exercised reasonably. Clauses 5 and 8 provide those safeguards. Clause 5 provides that a supplemental toll provisions order made by TfL will not take effect unless it is confirmed by the Greater London Authority. The Greater London Authority may require TfL to consult other persons, to publish notice of the proposals and to consider any objections. It may also consult third parties.
Before confirming an order, the Greater London Authority is required by Clause 8 to give notice to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is then given an opportunity to scrutinise the order and has the power to object to any provision that confers a power on TfL or creates an offence unless the provision is substantially the same as one already in force for the purposes of a TfL road-user charging scheme; for example, the central London congestion charging scheme. A provision of an order to which the Secretary of State has objected cannot come into force unless and until the objection has been withdrawn. This will ensure that any new provision to be included in a supplemental toll provisions order is reasonable and consistent with government policy.
I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will raise issues regarding penalty charges and enforcement powers, some of which have more general application than this Bill. I am grateful to him for having taken the time to meet me and representatives of TfL to discuss those issues. TfL has sent him a detailed response that I hope will satisfy his concerns about the Bill or at least go a long way towards doing so. I look forward to hearing from him in this debate and can assure him that, if he has remaining concerns, TfL will be happy to discuss them with him further.
This useful Bill will facilitate the collection of tolls for financing valuable new infrastructure projects for London. I commend it to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)
My Lords, I am grateful for the time the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and many people from TfL have taken to address my problems with the Bill. However, some of them remain outstanding, and I shall go through them briefly.
I started out with great concern about the scope of the Bill. The New Roads and Street Works Act is capable of very wide interpretation, but I have been satisfied by what the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said today and by what TfL has said to me. I understand that the ultimate protection we have against the wide extension of the Bill is that a toll order that involves an existing highway is subject to special parliamentary procedure unless the Secretary of State certifies that there will be an equivalent toll-free facility for the road user. I hope that the Minister will confirm that, or I will be very concerned about the wide exemptions from planning permission and the other freedoms given under the New Roads and Street Works Act were this to become a widespread practice in London. In application to a new bridge at Beckton, I do not see that it holds any terrors for me.
My remaining concerns about the Bill are principally focused on the powers that it gives TfL’s contractors to enter vehicles. TfL has explained to me that it imagines that it will have a system of automatic detection of vehicles that go through the toll. That is quite a long way in the future as we are looking at 2012 for the opening of this bridge. Perhaps it will be swung out to the congestion charge at the same time; I do not know. It will be partly based on some kind of transmitter or chip inside a vehicle that will register the passing of an unauthorised vehicle and provide some kind of automatic imposition of the toll. To deal with situations where that chip or mechanism has been tampered with, there is a provision in the Bill that TfL contractors can demand entry to your car. If you refuse them entry you will be subject to a fine at level five or six months’ imprisonment. So it is a pretty hefty sledgehammer which TfL wish to take to crack this particular nut.
My first problem is that TfL’s contractors can be any old person. It employs a range of firms, one of which is Drakes, which was the subject of the recent whistle-blower programme in respect of its bailiffs’ activities. These people are not licensed in any public way, yet we are going to give them power to enter somebody's vehicle at any time of day, and—looking at the additional powers in the Bill—not only on the street, but in a “public” car park such as a supermarket, a hospital or an office, which are places one might regard as private or semi-private.
You can imagine yourself being confronted by some lumpy individual at 10 o’clock at night in the dark of a Marks and Spencer’s car park, demanding entry to your car, and saying that if you do not let him in, you are in for six months’ inside. I find it an extremely difficult bridge to cross as to whether these are the sort of powers we should give to unlicensed contractors of uncertain reputation.
I am told by TfL, although it is not something which I have investigated, that there is some legislative chain which leads back under the current legislation to mean that this power would have to be exercised either by a police constable or in the presence of a police constable. If that is the case, the Bill should state it. Let us have that provision in the Bill as something which is fixed and permanent. To have something which is subject to ministerial whim, to statutory instrument and to uncertain interpretation of lawyers is entirely unsatisfactory.
Let us also have a system for properly licensing the contractors who carry out the work. There is a system in place, the Private Security Industry Act, by which wheel-clampers are licensed. That is being extended by the Department for Constitutional Affairs to cover bailiffs and others. Its intention is that the same regulatory body will be expanded and given increased powers to cover them. That would seem to be an entirely appropriate body to carry out the licensing and supervision of those increasingly powerful contractors that Transport for London uses, particularly since, in the case of Drakes and, I imagine, one or two others, these people will eventually be subject to that body anyway; those firms are probably using the same personnel as bailiffs or for TfL enforcement alternately. Therefore, I do not think that this provision would create great problems. It would put these people on a proper footing with a proper set of responsibilities and a proper set of guidance, and it would give a proper way for the public to deal with situations where they overstep the bounds of reasonableness or misbehave themselves, such as will be provided for other people who find themselves in similar situations when TfL is not involved.
Such a provision could not be put in the Bill because the system is not there yet. However, an undertaking by TfL that it will pursue and be happy to talk to the Department for Constitutional Affairs about this, and that it will aim to have its contractors properly regulated when the new system comes into being in a year or two’s time, is necessary to give us the comfort required to allow these additional powers for Transport for London contractors.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, hinted, some national problems also come to bear here. Increasingly, we are finding penalties imposed on the owners of vehicles rather than the people who are in charge of them at the time. As far as I can see, we have not as a nation taken any steps to ensure that the DVLA is up to the strain of imposing responsibility on the owner, when the owner is defined by the DVLA. People increasingly buy cars through the internet or magazines. If you buy a car in that way, you have no way to check whether any fines or other charges are outstanding on that vehicle. There is no central registration of those charges. There is no means of ringing up the DVLA to check. There is certainly nothing on the internet to enable you to call a number to ask whether the position is outstanding on that vehicle.
That would not present a problem under any form of data protection, because we already do that for the hiring status of vehicles, to find out whether there is any outstanding hire purchase on a vehicle. That is not beyond the wit of man. The Government may care to know that Transport for London is considering providing such a facility itself off its own bat for its own charges. That helps a bit but does not help for the more general picture. In the spirit of fair play, if the Government are imposing those additional burdens on the owners of cars for their convenience, they should provide as a convenience in return the ability for people to find out what is outstanding on their vehicle or a vehicle that they intend to purchase. That is not a complicated or difficult thing to do but would have great benefit and would enable the Government to roll out the principle of the owner being responsible much more widely, effectively and fairly.
That will come back to this House in the not too distant future when we consider the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill, in which we are considering giving individual London local authorities and Transport for London the power to clamp and take away a vehicle on which there are three or more penalty charges outstanding. But there is no way that anyone has of knowing whether their vehicle has that status and no way that a London local authority has of knowing whether the owner information shown is correct or whether the person responds at their existing address.
The whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen. If it is imposed on a large scale, a lot of people will find their vehicles removed for no good reason. They will then find that they have to pay enormous sums—£1,000 or more, even if there are only three tickets outstanding—to recover their vehicle, or face a wait of three months or more to recover it through argument. There is no clear way provided to deal with disputes about whether the vehicle has been taken correctly. People may find themselves arguing with a number of London authorities, each of which has one penalty notice that it says is outstanding against them.
So that is a really problematic area. More and more, local government wants to use those facilities to improve its ability to recover money due to it. I thoroughly approve of that, but if we are to do that, we must centrally provide the proper facilities to enable it to happen well. I shall not charge TfL with any of that responsibility; I am merely taking the chance to berate the Minister about it. I shall be much harder when it comes to the next TfL Bill, which would result in real damage. For today, I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, can confirm whether TfL is serious about providing its customers, as it were, with the ability to find out what is outstanding on their car or any car, so that the powers in the Bill will not bite on a citizen who has acquired a car from a habitual congestion charge offender.
However, there are things that I want to impose on TfL. We are considering a system that is not intended to be a disincentive to travel. When the congestion charge was introduced, it was deliberately made extremely hard to pay it, and it was deliberately made very painful for you if you forgot. After 10 o’clock at night, there was no escape; you paid the £50 penalty. There was no easy way of buying a book of tickets in advance and then simply ticking them off and being told when you had only two left. You could not pay by direct debit. All sorts of helpful ways in which payment could have been made were not implemented. We are getting slow and gradual improvement in that. I disapprove of this. I should be extremely upset if a Conservative mayor treated me that way. I expect it of the current mayor. There is some sense in it in that it is meant to be a penalty and a disincentive, and making it nasty and full of teeth is, in a way, a reasonable thing to do. That does not, however, apply to a toll.
We are providing this bridge to make it easier for people to travel between one place and another; indeed, we should encourage them to do so. We should therefore not deal with the toll as if it were a penalty and a disincentive. We absolutely must have a promise from Transport for London that, if it is going to take these powers and impose these penalties, it will make it as easy as possible for people to pay and that it will look for all sorts of innovative and useful ways to make as certain as possible that people using the bridge do not forget that there are many ways in which they can pay.
Transport for London must also ensure that when people fail to pay, by mistake or through inattention, they do not get slammed with a £50 fine that is part of a penalty regime. Of course people should pay a little extra, but it should not be a massive penalty or a trap for the unwary. A service is being provided. If someone is late in paying, the fee could be doubled, and then upped if it was not paid for a long time, but the regime should not be punitive. I really would like some comfort from TfL that it will approach this in the spirit of service to the user, rather than trying to extract the maximum possible revenue from those who are forgetful.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for introducing the Bill and taking us through a number of its provisions, which are not immediately obvious to new readers, among whom I include myself. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I am in no way a spokesman for the current mayor, although he would certainly wish to promote himself as someone who does not slap penalties on to users of roads subject to the congestion charge. My group was delighted when he eventually took up our proposal that there should be a facility for paying the following day. He had until then taken the view, which I felt was far too paternalistic and nannying, that it would confuse drivers to have the opportunity to pay the following day because they would naturally leave it until the next day and then forget. I am glad that that bit of progress has been made.
My Lords, it was not my personal initiative. I must ask the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, why he has introduced the Bill now. The Bill seems to spring from the requirements of the 1991 Act. Is it because of the prospect of the Thames Gateway Bridge? Perhaps the noble Lord will admit that someone has realised that the existing provisions are inadequate and that there is a need to expand them.
The first thing that occurred to me when I read the Bill was the constitutional position. We have heard about the safeguards, which are the Greater London Authority, which will have to confirm an order, and then, as a long stop, the Secretary of State. The mayor may be a member of Transport for London. If he is a member of the Transport for London board, he must be the chairman of that board. The Mayor also carries out the functions of the Greater London Authority. I admit that I have not quite got my head around the constitutional protections in Transport for London having to get confirmation of an order from the authority.
Clause 5(3) sets out a number of steps which the authority “may”, but not “must”, do in terms of consultation, publication and so on. It may be that this is exactly the same as under the congestion charging provisions. I have not had an opportunity to look, but perhaps the Minister or the noble Lord can assist me on that today or subsequently. I am unclear too on the parliamentary procedure or, to put it another way, the democratic input. Secondary legislation would normally have to go through some sort of parliamentary procedure, inadequate as many of us have described it on a lot of occasions.
I declare an interest as a member of the Liberal Democrat group on the London Assembly where we have considered the Thames Gateway Bridge frequently. If it is acceptable to us at all, it is acceptable only if there is a system of differential charging, so that vehicles such as international heavy goods vehicles are deterred from using the bridge as an alternative to the Dartford crossing. Very importantly, people who live locally want to be able to access employment opportunities and so forth on the north side of the river—the demand seems to be in that direction in particular—without having to pay as heavy a toll as those using it as a through route. I understand that local authorities, through the Thames Gateway London Forum, believe that this would be technically possible. On listening to descriptions of using new technology and vehicles, from a completely uninformed point of view, differential tolling seems likely, but I hope that that can be confirmed.
Before I say my next remarks, I should say that I and my party generally see a great deal of benefit in developing road pricing. A short search of the internet has turned up, inevitably, fairly extreme ideas, as one tends to get from people who share theirs with the world through the internet. How accurate it is, I do not know, given that the first item I found, from the London Motorists Action Group, says that this Bill has passed through the House of Lords largely unnoticed. Quite what we are doing giving it a Second Reading today, I do not know.
Perhaps the noble Lord would comment on an extreme, but possibly accurate, lay description of the Bill. It is a test bed for national schemes—I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, to put his head on the block on that. Drivers will face six months in jail and a hefty fine if they tamper with spy-in-the-car tracking devices. There will be unprecedented stop-and-search powers to enter vehicles to check that devices have not been tampered with. Drivers who remonstrate with officials could face up to six months in prison. I do not imagine that they are fingered and put into prison immediately, but that is how this Bill reads. The same applies to obscuring registration plates or using false documents. Our discussions on the congestion charge have included quite a lot of debate on the obscuring of registration plates. Very muddy number plates are to be found on some vehicles.
The Minister may be able to comment on the suggestion that the Bill gives the Secretary of State for Transport powers to prevent a toll scheme going ahead if the equipment is incompatible with a national standard. This may be a matter for the original Bill, but it also occurs to me to ask whether the tolls we are talking about would apply to diplomatic vehicles, given the controversy over payment of the congestion charge by representatives in foreign embassies.
I have said that these suggestions are being put forward in lay terms. Because this is an enabling provision, but perhaps not only for that reason, the language of the Bill is not readily understandable and therefore it is not easy to understand its impact. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the legislative impact and legislative chains might well be made very clear.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for introducing this small but interesting and possibly important Bill. I also thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for effectively giving us the opportunity to clarify some of its finer points today in your Lordships’ House.
The whole issue of how we pay for the use of our roads in this country is becoming increasingly vexed. We all saw the reports of how nearly 2 million people signed a petition on the Downing Street website opposing the Government’s grand plans for a national road charging scheme. We have also recently witnessed the westward expansion of the mayor’s congestion charging zone. We are in the middle of a departmental consultation on the new charging regime for the Dartford crossing. There is certainly a lot of movement in this area and it is therefore timely to be discussing legislation of this kind.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, mentioned, the purpose behind the legislation is to set up a charging regime to pay for the new Thames Gateway bridge. Let me say at this point that of course we support the bridge and welcome the undoubted economic boost it would give to what has been traditionally a deprived area of London. However, it is the unintended consequences of this legislation which other noble Lords have mentioned that I wish to concentrate on. In general, we would be opposed to any road in London or anywhere else imposing two charges, both a toll and a congestion charge. If we are to have road charging, and it is likely that that will happen, it is only right that even if we have differential rates, each road should have only one charge on it. I am not clear how a congestion charge and a toll would fit together.
The chief objective of the Bill is to give Transport for London and by implication the mayor—although as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, pointed out, the mayor could give himself his own approval—additional powers to provide for the operation and enforcement of toll orders similar to the powers exercised by TfL and the mayor over the congestion charge. However, my current reading of the Bill is that in theory—I stress that—it would confer on TfL the power effectively to impose a toll on any road in London. I know that my noble friend Lord Lucas may have been given some assurances, but I am still unhappy about this. In effect, any major trunk or arterial road could be subject to a toll; it would not restrict TfL to charging a toll on the gateway bridge. While TfL might have to go through a number of procedures and jump through some hoops before it could do so, the fact remains that this Bill may give it the potential to create new tolls wherever it wants.
The Highways Act 1980 provides the definition of a “special road”, as used in the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, to describe which roads can be designated as toll roads, to which reference is made in the Bill. The 1980 Act provides that a special road is authorised not only by the construction of a new road but also by the “appropriation” of an existing one by the relevant transport authority, obviously in this case, TfL. Therefore, by definition, TfL could have the power to make a toll order under the powers in the Bill on any road in Greater London by appropriating an existing road and designating it as a special road.
Additionally, Clause 6 of the Bill states that the provisions of Schedule 23 to the GLA Act 1999,
“shall have effect in relation to the TfL toll order”.
Paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 23 to the 1999 Act states:
“A TfL scheme may apply to an area which consists of the whole or any part of Greater London”.
That could therefore mean that Clause 6 allows TfL to make a toll order on any road in Greater London. These are questions that in theory we all have some concerns about.
My other concern is that the Bill does not place any requirements on TfL to consult when exercising its powers. How will TfL meet the belief of London Councils that it is important that TfL should consult boroughs fully on any proposed toll order? Do the Government think there is a case for any proposed toll to be subject to full consultation with residents and businesses across the whole of London—even with the whole of the south-east—as London is strategically important to the whole region?
I hope I have managed to outline our concerns on this legislation. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide the reassurances that I and many Londoners are seeking. If he cannot give us all the answers tonight, I should be grateful if he would write to us and outline some of them further.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, with his wealth of experience and his long history of working to make London a more mobile and accessible place. He has a great track record in that regard. I am pleased that it is he who is taking the Bill through the House of Lords rather than my good self. It is quite nice to share the excitement and the flak on these things, and he has done that job with his customary style and in good order. As the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has said, this is a timely debate, given the issues that have been raised during this short discussion today.
My noble friend stressed in his speech that the purpose of the Bill is to allow Transport for London to make additional provision for the collection and enforcement of tolls pursuant to toll orders made under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. Great emphasis has rightly been placed on ensuring a more efficient and effective collection and enforcement regime. Having carefully considered the provisions in the Bill, I am happy to endorse my noble friend’s statements.
The 1991 Act provides for tolls to be collected to fund new roads. Transport for London, and indeed any other highway authority, may seek authorisation to charge tolls by making a toll order under the 1991 Act. Such toll orders are then subject to validation by the Secretary of State. Before the Secretary of State can validate the order, public notice must be given and interested parties have the right to object. If the Secretary of State receives an objection from any person, he can ask for a local inquiry to be held to consider any substantive points at issue. Such an inquiry is not mandatory. However, where a local inquiry is not held, the Secretary of State is still required to take into account any objections made when deciding whether or not to confirm the toll order. So there are checks and balances all the way through the process.
At the moment, TfL has applied only for the confirmation of one toll order, which relates, as we have heard, to the construction of a new bridge, which all parties support, known as the Thames Gateway bridge, which would connect Beckton to Thamesmead. Transport for London has made an order to authorise the charging of tolls over the new bridge to finance its construction. That again has a long history, as the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, made clear in his comments relating to the Dartford toll.
An application has been made by Transport for London to the Secretary of State for the validation of the order, together with related applications for planning permission and other orders needed to authorise the construction of the bridge. As the House has already heard, those applications have been the subject of a public local inquiry in Charlton which was concluded on 3 May 2006. The Secretary of State’s decision on those applications, including the confirmation of the toll order, is awaited.
The Bill will not change the key provisions of the 1991 Act. Should it receive Royal Assent, toll orders will still have to be submitted to the Secretary of State for validation. The Bill instead proposes to take the established process for imposing tolls forward on new roads by addressing shortcomings in the collection and enforcement regimes. We would all accept that things have moved on since 1991, with new technology and new means of collecting tolls. Again, I stress that it will apply only in circumstances where Transport for London has previously been authorised to charge tolls under a toll order made under the New Roads and Street Works Act.
Toll orders made under the 1991 Act presume that tolled roads or bridges will have barriers at one or both ends that operate to secure the collection of tolls and a means of enforcement. These are toll gates as we recognise and understand them. As we know from our experience as drivers, they can be slow, but in most cases they work very effectively.
The Government recognise that while such a basic tolling system was reasonable in almost all circumstances in 1991, matters have advanced. Using toll booths and gates slows traffic unnecessarily and adds to journey times and congestion. In the mean time, modern technology enables tolling to be carried out without the need for barriers. The provision of a more efficient means of collection and enforcement of such tolls can be only of benefit to the public purse and to the public in other regards.
I accept the argument, and disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the detailed provisions for the collection and enforcement of tolls under a Transport for London toll order do not belong in a Bill. Such lengthy and detailed provisions belong in a supplemental toll provisions order made by Transport for London. The key question is, therefore, whether adequate safeguards are built into the approval process for such supplemental orders.
Before confirming such an order, the Greater London Authority is required to give notice to the Secretary of State, who will then have the opportunity to scrutinise the order. He will have the power to object to any provision which confers a power on Transport for London that differs substantially from an existing Transport for London road user-charging scheme; for example, the central London congestion charging scheme. Should the Secretary of State make such an objection, the provisions of a supplemental toll order cannot come into force until the objection has been addressed. In this way, the Secretary of State will continue to be able to ensure that any new provision included in a supplemental toll provision order is reasonable and consistent with government policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked whether I can confirm that the Department for Transport and Transport for London would ensure that TfL’s enforcement activities are within the scope of any changes which emerge from the current consultations of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. I am happy to be able to commit the department to take all reasonable steps to achieve that objective.
The noble Lord raised some other points, in particular with regard to ensuring that prospective owners of a car can establish whether it is subject to outstanding penalty charge notices. Vehicle owners are, of course, responsible for ensuring that the DVLA is informed of the sale of a vehicle. It is in the seller’s interests to ensure that they are not liable for offences committed by the new owner. Transport for London will use DVLA data to ensure that new registered keepers are not subject to enforcement activities taken against the previous keeper of their vehicle.
As the noble Lord noted, in London, Transport for London is working to set up a database that will allow prospective new owners of vehicles to check whether a vehicle has been logged as a persistent evader. In addition to alerting the DVLA, the new registered keeper will also be able to advise the database keepers of the transfer of ownership and have the database amended.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked another question to which I may have an answer, or I may have answered it already. He asked whether a special road scheme incorporates an existing road and whether the Secretary of State can confirm the scheme. The Secretary of State cannot confirm the scheme unless he is satisfied that another reasonably convenient route is available for traffic other than the traffic authorised by the scheme or that an alternative route is not reasonably required. That is in Section 18(6) of the Highways Act. I hope that that answers the noble Lord’s question.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made other points about contractors, licensing schemes, enforcement and penalties for owners of vehicles. I think that most of those points have been responded to. The Department for Constitutional Affairs is dealing with SIA and so on. I think that I have covered most of the noble Lord’s concerns. If I have not done so, and if the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, is unable to do so, I am sure that we can properly check Hansard and correspond with noble Lords whose points have not been addressed.
The noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, drew attention to the importance of consultation with London boroughs. I agree with him, and I am grateful to him for raising it. I am sure that we can ensure that more-than-adequate consultation with London boroughs takes place. The procedure certainly suggests that, and I would expect it to be the case in any event.
This is entirely useful legislation. It does not give to Transport for London anything more than it already has. The legislation is modernising and will facilitate the collection of tolls for the financing of valuable new infrastructure across London. For those reasons, I am happy to add my commendation of the Bill to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and particularly the Minister for his support. I shall respond to one or two of the points that were made by the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Hanningfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
On the scope of the Bill, and as has been confirmed by the Minister, I can assure both noble Lords that the Bill does not propose to provide Transport for London with any additional powers to impose tolls or to provide for London-wide road-user charging. Transport for London cannot impose tolls on roads without the Secretary of State’s confirmation under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, which is subject to procedural requirements including, in appropriate cases, the holding of public inquiries. Additional statutory safeguards, including parliamentary procedure, exist in relation to the imposition of tolls on existing roads. The Bill does not alter that position.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also raised the matter of vehicles being entered by enforcement officers. The powers proposed by the Bill are based on Transport for London’s existing powers relating to congestion charging. As with the existing powers, the powers in the Bill would operate only in circumstances where it is suspected that deliberate steps have been taken to avoid payment of the toll or to avoid being identified as failing to pay the toll. The existing powers can be exercised only by constables or in the presence of constables, and it is envisaged that the same restrictions would be applied to the proposed powers.
I understand the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about private bailiffs and the desirability of their being regulated. However, TfL does not use the services of private bailiffs. TfL officers who carry out on-street enforcement activities are governed by the Road User Charging (Charges and Penalty Charges) (London) Regulations 2001. Bailiffs who carry out debt collection on behalf of TfL are members of either the Certificated Bailiffs Association or the Association of Civil Enforcement Agencies and operate under a code of conduct.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, mentioned also that the payment of the tolls should be user-friendly. There were some teething problems with payment of the congestion charge when it was first introduced. Since that time, Transport for London has listened to customers and improved the payment methods available by introducing new methods to make payment easier. The payment methods are kept under review and Transport for London is considering the introduction of payments through direct debit.
Transport for London has sent a written response to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, replying in more detail to the points raised by him and, as I said in my opening speech, Transport for London will be very happy to continue to discuss any remaining concerns of the noble Lord and other noble Lords and will respond to the detail in writing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee asked, “Why now?”. The answer is, of course, the Thames Gateway bridge and the need to put together a package so that negotiations can be entered into by potential construction and franchising firms. We will write to her on the constitutional matters but, broadly speaking, the constitutional form is meant to mirror identically, or more or less identically, the congestion charge regime. As for differential charging, Transport for London has shared some of its ideas with me that go some way to meeting the noble Baroness’s concerns, and we shall share the details with her in writing.
The two offences that carry the possibility of imprisonment are equivalent to existing offences relating to the congestion charging scheme which carry the same penalties. The first category relates to persons interfering with the equipment, obscuring or tampering with number plates or falsifying documents with the intention of avoiding payment of the toll or being identified as liable to pay the toll. The second category is when a person intentionally obstructs an officer authorised by TfL in the exercise of the powers under the Bill to enter vehicles when that person has reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contains equipment relating to the toll that has been tampered with or there are false documents. These are instances in which deliberate steps are being taken to avoid payment of the toll or being identified as failing to pay the toll, such as tampering with equipment or the provision of false documents. TfL considers that taking such deliberate steps is a serious matter and, in these limited circumstances, considers that the proposed penalties are justified.
I hope that I have covered most of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. I say again, because it is important, that the Bill does not give TfL any new powers to impose tolls.
Noble Lords raised several other points, but there is other business to follow so I shall stop. I assure all noble Lords that what has been said will be very carefully studied by Transport for London. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to assure noble Lords that they will be written to on their points and the letters shared between them, and it is a great pleasure to know that I shall not be writing the letters but TfL will.
The Bill will assist Transport for London to finance the construction and operation of important new infrastructure projects in London, particularly the new bridge.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.