HC Deb 05 May 1998 vol 311 cc554-6
28. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What measures he proposes to encourage the purchase of more fuel efficient, less polluting cars. [39534]

The Minister of Transport (Dr. Gavin Strang)

We have already announced several fiscal measures to encourage the purchase of cleaner cars, including the fuel duty strategy and the proposed lower rate of vehicle excise duty for the least polluting, most fuel efficient cars. We have also established the cleaner vehicles task force to advise on further action.

Helen Jones

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that, as people will want to use their cars as part of an integrated transport strategy, it is important that those vehicles are less polluting and more fuel efficient than they are now? Does he further agree that the development of alternative fuels, such as compressed natural gas and liquified petroleum gas, will have an important role to play in achieving that end?

Dr. Strang

Yes, the motor car will continue to have an important role in transport, not least because it is flexible and convenient. My hon. Friend is right that we want an increased take-up of alternative fuels, particularly in congested areas, to help those people, especially asthmatics, who suffer because of poor air quality caused by fuel emissions.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

If it made sense to raise the tax on fuel for motor vehicles to have the effect on pollution that the Minister claims, why did it also make sense to reduce the tax on domestic fuel for heating, which causes even greater pollution?

Dr. Strang

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Conservative Government started the automatic increase in fuel duty by more than the rate of inflation. Surely he should welcome the fact that the Chancellor has announced our intention to introduce a new reduced rate—a £100 rate—of vehicle excise duty for the least polluting, most efficient cars.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does not experience show that when we widened the price differential, people were encouraged to use unleaded fuel? Should we not do the same for compressed natural gas and liquid petroleum gas to allow those fuels to be used in an environmentally sensitive way?

Dr. Strang

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. In two Budgets, the Government froze the rate of duty on liquefied petroleum gas and on compressed natural gas. We believe that those fuels have an enhanced role to play, particularly in congested areas where emissions effect people's health, especially those with asthma and cardiac conditions.

29. Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

What plans he has in respect of the future role of the private car. [39535]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

We shall shortly publish a White Paper delivering our manifesto commitment to introduce an integrated transport policy to fight congestion and pollution. Our aim will be to extend the transport choices available to the British people. The private car will continue to have an essential role to play, along with a much more effective public transport system, which will encourage people to use their cars less and public transport more. That will protect the environment, strengthen our economy and provide access for all sectors of society.

Mr. Boswell

I take it from the Secretary of State's response—and from the response of the Minister of Transport to an earlier question—that the Government are at last coming to terms with the reality that a car is a necessity and not a luxury for many millions of drivers and their families, and not only for the affluent or those resident in rural areas. In the light of that reality, will the Secretary of State and his colleagues return to the Chancellor and make representations to him about the implications of a total tax increase of £9 billion on motorists which will extend over the life of this Parliament and have to be paid out of the pockets of ordinary drivers and ordinary families?

Mr. Prescott

The petrol duty escalator was started by the previous Administration, and has required motorists to pay billions of pounds in tax. This Government have always realised that the car has an important part to play—and I have spoken on transport issues for a long time. The United Kingdom has fewer cars per head than other European countries, but we use our cars an awful lot more?—because those other countries have a better public transport system. We wish to encourage people in the United Kingdom to use their cars less and to use public transport more. We will achieve that goal by making public transport much more effective—by making it a priority, rather than by deregulating it and encouraging competition, which, under the previous Administration, led to a reduction in public transport.

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm whether it is the Prime Minister's policy unit or the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that is defining the Government's policy on private cars? Will he also consider his position if, at the end of this Parliament, he has not been able to reduce traffic in terms of his commitment?

Mr. Prescott

The transport White Paper will be a Government policy document formulated by my Department and influenced by the Prime Minister—who is the Government's main Minister. Those factors will determine the policy, which I believe will be a successful one. Hon. Members will have to wait until I introduce the White Paper to make a judgment on the policy. There will also be a public debate on the policy. I believe that the White Paper will lead not only to a better ordered public transport policy and to less private car use, but—most important—to improvement in our environment and in the health of our people.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

If the Prime Minister's own policy unit is concerned about the transport White Paper's anti-motorist stance, should not that be a warning to millions of motorists in the United Kingdom and to thousands of other people who work in the motor industry? Is that stance not the real reason why the transport White Paper has been deliberately delayed until a week or two after the local government elections have been held?

Mr. Prescott

First—as a matter of history—I am not even aware of the paper mentioned in the press, and I have not seen it. Secondly, we will produce a transport policy that meets the needs of the United Kingdom. As for our policy being hostile to those needs, I tell the right hon. Gentleman—who seems to have been talking an awful lot about private car use—that the previous Administration realised that car use was growing so much that, in 25 years, another 10 million cars will be on the road, requiring us to build 110-lane motorways between London and Leeds. The previous Administration therefore cut the road programme.

As for tax on motorists—[Interruption.] Yes, tax; the petrol duty escalator was certainly increased. I should like to quote to the right hon. Gentleman something from the 1996 Green Paper on taxation of non-residential parking, which states that there should be

a presumption in the favour of introducing legislation. in due course, to enable congestion charging and area licensing to be implemented". That was the clear intention of the previous Administration, who seem to have had one policy in government and another in opposition. Perhaps the policy change was announced when the right hon. Gentleman had taken time to be with his family, and he missed it. The way he is currently performing, he will be back with his family and off the Opposition Front Bench.