HC Deb 16 January 1989 vol 145 cc12-3
10. Mr. Atkinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to introduce payment by tolls in the motorway building programme.

Mr. Channon

None at present.

Mr. Atkinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in France and elsewhere private and business motorists have a choice between congestion-free toll roads and state-run trunk roads and motorways? Can he confirm his intention to publish a Green Paper on ways of tackling our worsening road conditions? If so, will he include in that Green Paper a detailed analysis of Europe's privately funded toll roads, and also perhaps a list of prime candidates in this country, including the proposed east coast motorway to relieve the A1?

Mr. Channon

I await proposals on the east coast motorway, which I understand are to come forward shortly.

My hon. Friend is right that there has been tolling on motorways in many, although not all, European countries for a good many years. I am extremely anxious to introduce private finance into our entire road system, and I shall come forward with proposals soon. I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said, but at present I have no proposals to make about tolls.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Secretary of State resist the current Conservative fashion of delving into ancient history to resurrect past practices? We have had quite enough with the poll tax and the possibility of the indentity card without further measures such as the toll turnpike and toll booth.

Mr. Channon

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should take that philistine attitude to history. It is most unlike him, with his teaching background. I see no reason why we should not examine all good ideas, whether they are new or old.

Mr. Simon Coombs

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if there is a choice between congestion and paying a toll, many people who use the M4 motorway every day between Maidenhead and Hammersmith will be more than willing to consider the latter alternative?

Mr. Channon

I find that an increasing number of people take that view. I think that the attitude has changed completely in the last couple of years.

Mr. Prescott

Does the Secretary of State accept that Britain has the smallest and most congested motorway system of any developed economy? It is one third the size of that in Germany, and we have an expansion programme one fifth of the size of Germany's.

Does the Secretary of State share the growing resentment of the Government's support for tolls when, since 1979, they have doubled the level of road transportation tax to about £7 billion, which represents 25 per cent. of the total raised, compared with the 35 per cent. raised under Labour? If the right hon. Gentleman had been able to maintain that level against the Treasury, he would have had £2 billion more to improve the quality of our roadways.

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman may have misheard what I said in answer to the original question. I said that I have no plans to introduce tolls at present, so a good deal of his question is aimed at the wrong target.

The hon. Gentleman knows that it takes a considerable time to complete a motorway. I would take his protestations more seriously but for the fact that the Labour Government had such an appalling record on motorways. We are reaping some of that legacy now.

Mr. John Browne

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the people of Winchester will be particularly interested in the answer that he gave to the original question? They look forward to the speedy completion of the M3. Will my right hon. Friend please assure the House that when he has looked at the inspector's report he will spend sufficient money, including privately raised finance, to ensure that the internationally very special environment around our historic city of Winchester will be fully protected?

Mr. Channon

I note what my hon. Friend has said, but in view of the present position I think that it would be unwise for me to comment.

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