Democracy inaction – road toll referendum plan defeated (and nobody even notices)
They say Parliament is democracy in action. The turnout for the recent Local Transport Bill debate in the Commons was democracy inaction. Scarcely any MPs bothered to turn out to fill the vast open spaces of the debating chamber though they did scurry out of their rabbit warren of offices to pass the Bill by 313 votes to 143.
All the amendments put forward to protect the interests of motorists were defeated or withdrawn, generally without debate. More worryingly, the whole six-hour debate scarcely rated a single column inch in the papers, which were pre-occupied with obscene phone calls by well-paid presenters. The proposals which disappeared include:
• A cross-party plan to reduce tolls on the Humber Bridge substantially;
• A proposal (new clause three) requiring a proper referendum before local road user charging was imposed;
• A bit to stop the Welsh Assembly being given power to impose tolls on trunk roads in Wales.
Towards the end of the debate, Stephen Hammond, for the Tories, said he wondered if MPs would "ever get to the clauses that deal with road charging". A Tory MP asked if he agreed "that the British public will be mightily disappointed about how little time has been given to debate the important issue of road charging throughout our country?"
The answer was: "Indeed. The Government have performed U-turn after U-turn on national road pricing so that they are going round in circles. It was interesting that the Secretary of State refused to confirm whether the Government were prepared to use local road pricing as a Trojan horse for further stealth taxes. New clause 3 would have made it impossible for local government to impose local charging schemes without local validation."
There was a meaningless amendment from the new Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon requiring local authorities to "consult" before they introduce road user charges.
Having failed to get any amendments accepted, the Tories did at least at the end of the debate vote against the Bill as a whole.
How was this anti-road-users Bill reported in the news media? Virtually not at all. This demonstrates that the anti-roads interests have all the power and that roads users have no voice at all.
Peter Roberts, Chief Executive, Drivers' Alliance.