§ 8. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)
If he will make a statement on the timetable for introducing guidelines on exemptions and concessions in relation to congestion charging. 
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling)
We will consult on a uniform minimum standard of exemptions and concessions once we have had an opportunity to consider the experience gained from road user charging schemes in London and Durham.
§ Dr. Cable
Does the Secretary of State agree that although the congestion charge in London has so far been a considerable success in traffic terms, there are many unfair exemptions deriving from the blue badge scheme? Will he urgently introduce new guidance to deal with cruel anomalies such as the situation faced by 150 thalidomide victims who have been refused exemptions, despite the fact that they are not capable of using public transport?
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Gentleman is right that the London congestion charging scheme has worked far better than many people thought that it would. However, as I have said on many occasions, it will take several months to evaluate its effect. Another point that I have often made is that it is for the Mayor to decide which exemptions he wishes to put in place. The way in which the legislation was framed made it absolutely clear that it would be for the Mayor in London, just as it is for local authorities around the country, to decide on the nature of the scheme and its exemptions. When the Government consult on minimum standards, they will be high level and generalised standards to ensure that there are no glaring inconsistencies between local authorities. I would say to the hon. Gentleman, or to anyone else who believes that the London scheme needs refinement in relation to exemptions, that that is a matter for the Mayor to resolve, as the legislation always intended.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear whether or not the Government support the extension of congestion charging?
§ Mr. Darling
I made it clear to my hon. Friend's Committee, and many times to the House, that 668 congestion charging is one of a number of options that local authorities can use. Whether it is appropriate for particular towns and cities depends on the local authority. That is how the legislation is drafted. I have also made it clear that I know full well that many local authorities have been waiting to see what happens in London before deciding whether to proceed with congestion charging. As I said last week in relation to congestion charging and other developments, such as the tolling of the M6 when the toll road opens—probably at the beginning of next year—developments are taking place that will allow people to learn from what is actually happening rather than what might happen in theory. That will better inform local authorities and the Government on what measures are workable and acceptable in managing demand for road space.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
The Secretary of State is trying to absolve himself from responsibility for the exemption scheme. The Government took the power in legislation to impose exemptions and concessions. Why do they not use that power to ensure that the scheme does not inflict so much damage on their policy of social exclusion? The latest report from the social exclusion unit shows that householders who are car owners and in the 20 per cent. lowest range of incomes have to pay 24 per cent. of household income in car taxes. That is unjust. Why do not the Government do something about that in the name of social inclusion?
§ Mr. Darling
I must say that I had no idea that the hon. Gentleman was bothered about social inclusion. There was not much sign of that when he was a Minister.
On the specific scheme, it has always been the case that it would be up to the Mayor of London to put arrangements in place and to decide the appropriate exemptions. It is his scheme and for him to decide what exemptions are justified. On social inclusion, it is worth bearing in mind that about 90 per cent. of people who come into central London do so on public transport. Many of the remaining 10 per cent. may be in a difficult position, but it is for the Mayor to sort that out. One of the best things that can be done to help social inclusion is to invest in public transport. The hon. Gentleman and his party want to cut public investment by 20 per cent. That would be bound to have an adverse effect on social inclusion.