4 March 1998

Mr. David Chaytor MP (Lab. Bury, North)

It is critical that when the Government legislate following the White Paper, they grasp the nettle of green taxation. That includes road pricing--there is now an emerging consensus in favour of that--and a steady and continuous increase of taxes on fuel. That started a few years ago at 3 per cent. annually, then it rose to 5 per cent. and now it is 6 per cent. annually. Three years ago, the royal commission on environmental pollution recommended a doubling of fuel prices by 2005.

The striking aspect of the annual increases that have been introduced is that motorists have largely accepted them. There is little complaint and no mass campaign against them. I believe that most motorists, although they like cheap fuel and benefit from the mobility and freedom that the car brings, understand that the unrestrained growth in traffic is not sustainable and has to be stopped. That is why they are prepared to pay more, as part of a package of measures designed to bring that about.

I want to link the carrot with the stick. We must go ahead with the continuing increase in fuel prices and consider other imaginative ways in which to increase the cost of motoring. That has to be done to get people out of their cars. I would like the Government to consider a measure that was first taken on board by the previous Labour Government 20 years ago: the switch of road tax to the cost of fuel.

Abolishing vehicle excise duty and transferring the cost to petrol would be revenue neutral for the average motorist in the average small car; in fact it would be a considerable advantage, because the cost would be phased throughout the year, rather than being paid up front once or twice a year.

It is crucial to tackle the issue of vehicle excise duty and either switch the one-off annual cost to the cost of fuel or introduce a phased form of duty that is related to engine size, fuel efficiency or volume of emissions, as happens in almost every other European country--and as happens here for heavy goods vehicles.

We must grasp the nettle. Hard choices will have to be made about the level and range of green taxation as part of our integrated transport strategy. The transport infrastructure does not exist in isolation: it simply reflects the wider economic patterns--the life styles and culture--of any society. In Britain, the culture of private car ownership is powerful and dominant.

Unless we take into account all the issues that determine our economic structures--including land use policy, the nature and location of housing, and the development of new technology so that more people can work at home--we shall simply scratch the surface by tinkering with the transport system. The whole question of the economics of private car ownership needs to be explored further. People who are deeply attached to their cars incur far greater costs for themselves and their families by insisting on private ownership than they would by a much greater use of taxis, public transport or occasional car rental. More research needs to be done to demonstrate that it is cheaper, and equally convenient, to rent or lease a car or to use taxis occasionally.

This is not an issue on which we can be self-righteous or pontificate, because we are all dependent on the car to a greater or lesser extent. We all bear a responsibility for changing our own patterns of behaviour as well as encouraging our constituents and others to do the same.

Reply to David Chaytor

View Contributors