ON-LINE DEBATE

4 March 1998

Rt Hon Alan Clark MP (Con. Kensington and Chelsea)


In response to the proposition (by Charles Secrett Executive Director Friends of the Earth) that:

"It doesn’t seem to to make any sense at all that people who drive small, sensible, fuel efficient cars are taxed at the same rate as people who drive very expensive, polluting, gas-guzzlers. They don’t do it on the continent. Why do it here?"

Charles Secrett has got things muddled, talking about use of fuel and consumption of fuel. In many cases cars with bigger engines use more fuel than cars with small ones. Use of fuel and fuel efficiency are not the same thing. If rich people want to buy more petrol to put in their Ferraris – which I have never owned incidentally – that's surely their business. The test is the degree of pollution which you cause, and I represent a constituency that has horrendous levels of pollution caused by automobiles.

Probably the least efficient and most pollutant of all cars on the road at the moment in any number is the Morris Minor, because the Morris Minor's BMEP and combustion figures and the way it sucks petrol in through a very primitive SU carburetor mean that its gasses are far more pollutant than a BMW 218 which has a very, very efficient fuel monitoring system, that actually makes the fuel totally burnt, so that the pollutant effect is very, very slight.

Now, Friends of the Earth have got to decide whether they want to criticize people because they're spending a lot of money on petrol – which is a standard class war element that regrettably creeps into Friends of the Earth arguments these days – or whether you want seriously to contribute to who is polluting and who isn’t, and you will find that very modern and very efficient big engines, mainly made by the Germans, are far less pollutant than some of the less efficient, smaller engines that are still around.

If you use a lot of fuel you obviously pay more tax than people who use less fuel because fuel is very heavily taxed. If he also wants to tag on an extra tax burden every time you tax your car, at the same time you get a road fund license for the rest of the year, well it's an argument but it won't make very much, unless he's proposing to move the decimal point one place to the right and shift it up from 140 to 1400, and be completely penal, I don't see that he's going to make anything like the difference that is going to be made by putting a bit extra on fuel.

You have to be very strict on two things. You have to be very strict about exhaust emissions and you have to be ready to make yourself unpopular with motorists to declare certain residential areas to be more or less car free. I don't think you can prevent residents going to their own address and parking but you must close them off, as far as is feasible, to through traffic. That way you don't have traffic jams with people gently spewing out exhaust fumes into the atmosphere, of which I might say by far the most heavy pollutants are commercial vehicles, not private cars.

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