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Mr. Simon Hughes: I recall the hon. Gentleman saying in Committee how strongly he supported local government in London being able to make its own decisions, so I find it difficult to understand why he criticises the Government on this point, given that most of the decisions on traffic calming are local borough decisions and will remain so. Why is the Tory party coming out, not against a proposition that there will be road charging, but against a proposition that, the issue having been debated during the election, those elected to represent Londoners may choose to impose road charging?

Surely Tory policy, if it means anything, is to give freedom to local government and other authorities to make decisions; but the hon. Gentleman wants to restrict London's choices by removing altogether one of the options available to it.

Mr. Ottaway: It is perfectly straightforward: we are against the congestion tax in London. As for the

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introduction of traffic-calming measures being a local authority decision, the hon. Gentleman should recall that, about a year ago, the Government proudly published a press release in which they announced that they had authorised huge levels of spending for thousands ofnew traffic-calming measures in London. That was Government money being spent on schemes instigated by the Government, and the local authorities were nothing but the agents of implementation; the Government inspired the initiative and the drive behind the schemes came from the centre.

Mr. Hughes: A large proportion of the money will have been taxpayers' money because a large proportion of transport spending in Britain comes from the taxpayer by way of grant to local government. In some ways, for some purposes, local authorities are agents, but to my knowledge no local council has been required to spend money against its wishes on traffic-calming schemes. If the hon. Gentleman can give me one example to the contrary, his case has credibility--but I suspect that there is no such example.

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman has caught me unawares and I do not have such an example to hand, but he should not doubt that, if a local authority is given money, it will spend it. The truth is that if the Government take the credit for the schemes, they must be prepared to take the criticism as well. Let us suppose that I am wrong and the hon. Gentleman is right and that all the measures are entirely local-authority inspired; in that case, the local authorities are creating the congestion. However, the point is that the slowing down of traffic and the increase in congestion is, to a large extent, man-made.

Two of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues--the hon. Members for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) and for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey)--are constituency neighbours of mine, and they might occasionally visit Coulsdon in my constituency; in fact, I know that one of them has, because he wrote to me to tell me so. The red route director has put no fewer than three pedestrian crossings across the A23 route into Coulsdon, which has caused tailbacks north and south of about a mile each way. Those tailbacks never occurred before the crossings were introduced, so the congestion is a man-made problem. The existing pedestrian crossings worked fine, but now that the additional traffic lights have been put in, we have huge tailbacks.

Mr. Edward Davey: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that all traffic-calming and road-safety measures cause congestion? The Minister for London and Construction was kind and helpful in working with local police and me to reduce the speed limit on the A3 Kingston bypass, which has improved the flow of traffic on that road and so reduced congestion.

Mr. Ottaway: If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the reduction in speed on the A3 Kingston bypass is popular, he has another think coming.

Mr. Davey: It is popular in my constituency.

Mr. Ottaway: Perhaps it is in the hon. Gentleman's, but it certainly is not in mine.

Mr. Simon Hughes: I do not want to distract the hon. Gentleman from the wider issues, but I am perplexed.

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Is he arguing that, for example, many more bus lanes in London would be a bad thing because, although they would allow buses a greater speed of travel, they would have an adverse impact on car users? If we enhance the safety of pedestrians and cyclists and the speed of buses, we are bound occasionally to run the risk of car transport being slowed, but that might be an incentive for people to use different forms of transport, or to go around London rather than through it.

Mr. Ottaway: I certainly do not suggest that all the measures are not wanted. My point is that I think that the balance might have begun to tip too far in one direction. If a speed limit of 25 mph were to be imposed throughout London, the whole city would grind to halt, just as a 25-mph speed limit on a motorway would clog up the whole road, because any trip would take twice as long and twice as many cars would be on the same stretch of road. There has to be joined-up thinking--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have seen an awful lot of the hon. Gentleman's back in the past few minutes. He should address the Chair.

Mr. Ottaway: I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was carried away by the interventions.

Before the Liberal Democrats put out their press releases saying "Tories oppose safety measures", alongside the one about the cracked paving stone, they should think seriously. Their holy grail appears to be the removal of congestion from London's roads, but that is unachievable, because if a motorist sees an empty road, the first thing he will do is drive down it--he will not take the bus. Congestion, once cleared, will return. The point is that many of the safety measures slow down traffic in London, and those measures are the result of Government decisions.

The Government have given three reasons for proposing to introduce a congestion tax: first, to persuade the motorist to leave his car behind; secondly, to reduce pollution; and, thirdly, to raise taxes for transport purposes. Will the Minister, through the congestion tax, persuade the people of London to leave their cars behind? The AA report "New leadership for London: transport in the capital", under the heading "Car ownership", states:

Were I to introduce an anti-congestion scheme and someone were to tell me that lower car ownership had resulted, I should say that I had achieved my objective. However, the availability of public transport in central London is already achieving the objective of keeping London traffic movements at a lower level than they would be if public transport were not available--all the evidence suggests that the availability of public transport in London keeps cars off the roads.

In Committee, we examined in depth the pilot scheme in Leicester. The Minister for Transport in London said that she would publish the results when they became available, and I assume that she is a woman of her word. However, early reports from that scheme give rise to serious questions about whether imposing a congestion tax on motorists will make much difference to their habits. Early reports from Leicester indicate that it takes a

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road-use charge of £6 to make a motorist change his pattern of behaviour. It is believed that in London the figure would be nearer £8. I do not think that even this Government would have the gall to introduce a £8 charge on motorists every time they made a journey in London. Given that they would not do that, it follows logically that a lesser sum would not deter anyone. So what do we have? We have a revenue stream. It is a tax by the back door. It is yet another example of a stealth tax.

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What will happen in the London boroughs? In Croydon, there are reports that the council intends to produce a congestion tax that will bear on motorists entering London once the Bill is enacted. Apart from ensuring the re-election of the Conservative group at the next borough elections, what will be the net effect? The answer is that local shoppers will go to the new Blue Water retail development near the M25 rather than pay to go to Croydon. The congestion tax may solve the problem of congestion in Croydon, but it will make it into a ghost town.

A good example is provided by Bath, where the Liberal Democrat council has raised parking charges to such a high level that there has been a 7 per cent. fall-off in the local economy. The House must recognise that one cannot impose a congestion tax in isolation and expect there to be no knock-on factors.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Does my hon. Friend agree that those who are most in favour of congestion charges are those who want to drive on our roads? The main purpose of a congestion tax is to get everybody else off the road so that the road is freer for oneself.

Mr. Ottaway: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have yet to hear anyone advocating a congestion tax who does not drive himself.

The second objective of the congestion tax is to reduce pollution. Notwithstanding my point that the tax is unlikely to affect volumes, it is possible to reduce pollution without the confrontational approach of extra taxation upon the motorist.

Such have been the advances and technological developments in the production and construction of engines that a car manufactured 30 years ago emitted 95 per cent. more toxic waste from the back end than would a car produced now. That has been achieved by co-operation with the motor industry and without the need to introduce a congestion tax. We must try to remove the final 5 per cent. without imposing a charge. I am sure that the technology is available to produce the ultimate clean car. The Conservative party would encourage the motor industry to do so. It would also give every encouragement to cars powered by liquefied gas or electricity.

It is worth noting that Oxford street, which is considered to be one of the more polluted areas in the country, is a street from which the car is excluded. The pollution tends to be the result of emissions from diesel engines in taxis and lorries. However, the Government must not use the environment as an excuse to impose a charge when other options are available.

The Government's final, unashamed reason for imposing a congestion tax on Londoners is that it will create a revenue stream for the mayor. The Liberal party

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has been eyeing this up and has given it its full support. In "Yes, Minister", when the Minister in that programme was about to make a controversial decision, Sir Humphrey used to say, "Very courageous, Minister, very courageous." It is very courageous of the Government to be advocating an additional tax on London. They are doing so unashamedly with the full intention of creating a revenue stream for the mayor.

The Government should be aware, however, of a recent report contained in a confidential Scotland Yard memo, according to the Evening Standard, which warns that there could be

The congestion tax will not be an easy measure to introduce. It is a courageous decision on the part of the Government to introduce it. I do not believe that anyone will become the London mayor on a pledge to introduce the tax.

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