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Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL]

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2011

Third Reading

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am a paid board member of Transport for London, which is a public body constituted under the Greater London Authority Act 1999. This is a Private Bill promoted by TfL. No petitions were deposited against the Bill and it was considered by an Unopposed Bill Committee on 11 November 2008, when it was amended and permitted to pass to the next stage.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide Transport for London with additional powers where TfL has made a toll order under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 that would supplement the enforcement powers under the toll order. At present, TfL can seek authority to charge tolls by means of a New Roads and Street Works Act toll order, but the powers in the 1991 Act for the collection and enforcement of the tolls would not enable TfL to have recourse to sophisticated modern mechanisms that allow traffic to flow freely and are similar to those used to collect and enforce charges under the central London congestion charging scheme. Those mechanisms include giving motorists options to pay through the internet, by telephone or by text and to use automatic number plate recognition technology, and imposing escalating penalty charges for non-payment instead of criminal penalties.

In cases in which TfL has been authorised to charge tolls under a toll order, the Bill will enable TfL to make a supplemental order that makes provision for the operation and enforcement of the toll order. These powers to make supplemental orders are similar to those already conferred on TfL in respect of road user charging schemes under Schedule 23 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999, of which the best known is the congestion charging scheme. It is intended that the enforcement regime to be provided in a supplemental toll provisions order will be similar to the tried and tested regime currently operating in respect of congestion charging that is, of course, very familiar to all Londoners. Most importantly, that regime will be subject to the same safeguards. The principle is that motorists will be able to pay the tolls in exactly the same way as the congestion charge and will be subject to the same sanctions for non-payment with the same safeguards.

In the Second Reading debate on the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised a number of points of concern. I am pleased to report to your Lordships’ House that the Bill was amended in Committee in response to his points as well as to meet other points raised by the Minister. In particular, the powers to immobilise and remove vehicles were removed from the Bill and reliance is instead being placed on the existing powers in the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2008, which were subjected to very careful scrutiny during the Bill’s passage through this House. The Bill has also been amended to make it clear that the power to make provision in a supplemental toll order to enter vehicles and seize articles can be exercised only by a constable or a person authorised by TfL in the presence of a constable. These safeguards are the same as those that apply to congestion charging. TfL had always intended that these safeguards would apply, but they are now expressly provided for in the Bill in response to assurances given to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, during the debate on Second Reading.

Transport for London first became aware of the need to modernise the enforcement powers for a toll order made under the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 in the context of the promotion of the Thames Gateway Bridge project. It was proposed that the new bridge would be financed partly by means of tolls collected under such a toll order, and the Bill was needed for the project. However, it was also recognised that the Thames Gateway Bridge project was just one example and that there would be other cases in which TfL might wish to seek tolling powers in respect of which additional powers of enforcement would be needed. The Bill was therefore deliberately drafted in general terms so that all such cases would be covered.

As was explained to the Unopposed Bills Committee, the new mayor had a few days earlier, on 6 November 2008, released Transport for London’s 10-year business plan. Under that plan, it was determined that Transport for London would not pursue the Thames Gateway Bridge project, given the pressures on funding and concerns over local traffic impacts. Transport for London was tasked with undertaking a wider study, together with other parties, to assess the transport and land use needs of the London Thames Gateway, including undertaking an assessment of options for a new east London river crossing.

Transport for London has in consultation with local boroughs and others therefore undertaken a review of river crossing options in the area east of Tower Bridge up to the existing Dartford Crossing. The review has highlighted that the problems experienced in east London through the lack of river crossings mean that further crossings are warranted, and has identified that it is likely that a package of solutions is required, including the construction of a bridge or tunnel at Silvertown.

The Mayor's Transport Strategy, which was issued on 10 May 2010, states that the mayor, through Transport for London, will take forward a package of solutions in respect of east London river crossings, including a new fixed line at Silvertown. Transport for London is currently considering the development of the package. Consideration is being given to the tolling of new crossings to help to finance their construction. Any toll order made under the 1991 Act would require the enforcement powers contained in the Bill.

The Bill will assist Transport for London in financing the construction and operation of this important new infrastructure in London. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for so eloquently moving the Motion that the Bill do now pass and for any influence that she might have had in securing the amendments that she described. I am quite content with the Bill as it is now, partly because TfL is a much more benign institution under current management than it was. Where it finds levels of misbehaviour, it seems interested not in immediately slapping down fines but in exploring the reasons for it, amending signage and handing out warning notices beforehand. I find it a civilised and easier-to-deal-with institution these days. I am also comforted by the level to which the Secretary of State will be involved in granting TfL any substantial powers under the Bill. I thank the noble Baroness and Transport for London, and wish this Bill good luck.

I shall be brief in my comments on the Bill. I was a member of the board of Transport for London when the congestion charge was brought in and chaired all the public meetings on that issue. I have been an open opponent of the Thames Gateway Bridge, so am very glad that that project has been scuttled.

I should like to ask two questions about the Bill, just by way of seeking confirmation. Do all the usual processes of planning, consultation and approval remain in place, even though this mechanism provides the funding for any new river crossing that might be tolled? Secondly, could this framework apply to other projects carried out by Transport for London? For example—since we have had many discussions on air quality—if there were to be a low-emissions zone and it was decided to toll cars that did not meet the relevant emissions standard as they entered the zone, could this framework again be used for that purpose? It is a framework that London might turn to, particularly at the time of the Olympics. Although I seek confirmation on those matters, I am very supportive of the Bill.

My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I give my full support to the Bill. It will be appreciated that all Private Bills take a fair amount of time to pass through the House, and this one certainly has. It is very good that we have reached this point of fruition today. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is reassured on the points that he raised. I am not quite sure that I can go quite so far as him in defining Transport for London as a benign institution; I hope he will acknowledge that he was reflecting from a very narrow perspective. He will know that many of us have considerable anxieties about the operations of Transport for London, and consequently “benign” is not the first adjective that comes to mind for some. Nevertheless, we certainly wish the Bill well and warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on taking it through the House at this stage.

My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe ought really to have been at this Dispatch Box at this moment. In fact, I sought all my powers of persuasion in arguing that it should be him, because he was in at the very origins of the Bill a number of years ago when it was considered in this House. However, he is in the dizzy position these days of shadow Deputy Chief Whip, and I hold such people in such high respect that I do exactly what I am told. That is why I am addressing the House on the Bill.

I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, raised one or two points on which reassurance will be given in the wind-up. However, certainly in broad terms, this is an enabling Bill as far as Transport for London is concerned. We are in favour of measures that give enabling powers of this kind, provided that the necessary safeguards are in place. I am pleased to see on various parts of the coalition Benches enthusiasm for the structure of congestion charges, which gives one hope that a rather more constructive approach will be taken towards certain aspects of congestion charging in the future. This Bill gives Transport for London the powers necessary to advance the cause of Londoners in crucial areas, and we are very pleased to welcome it.

My Lords, it has been more than two years since Parliament last considered this Private Bill. This is therefore the first time that the Bill has been considered by the coalition Government and this Parliament.

Our capital city's transport network is large and complex, and it should come as no surprise that the promoters of this Bill occasionally encounter challenges that prompt them to seek specific powers further to those already on the statute book. This Government recognise the critical role that transport has to play in supporting London’s economy and with it the nation’s prosperity. We are continuing to invest in London's infrastructure, with Crossrail, the Tube upgrades and Thameslink all under way.

The Government are content for this Bill to pass to the other place, where it can be further scrutinised. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for putting forward the Bill and for the clear way in which she explained it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords and the noble Baroness who have taken part in this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his support and should like to address the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.

The mayor’s transport strategy had an impact on the passage of the Bill. The Bill was not intended to be applied solely to the Thames Gateway Bridge and it continues to be relevant to other projects. Other projects will be carried through in the usual way in terms of tolling.

The powers in the Bill are very wide, and the supplementary toll provisions order will not take effect unless it is confirmed by the Greater London Authority. Lots of provisions are in place. I am afraid that I cannot answer the noble Baroness’s question on emissions. I hope she will accept Transport for London writing to her on that matter; I am afraid that I am not an expert on that area of the Bill.

I apologise to the noble Baroness. I should have let her know that I was going to ask that question. I am afraid that it did not come to me until the early hours of this morning.

Sitting suspended.