Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-337)|
Tuesday 1 July 2003
Q320 Mr Thomas: What are your views
now on congestion charging?
Mr Darling: In relation to congestion
charging, as you know, there are only two schemes in this country,
and only one significant one. It has worked far better than we
thought. We made it possible to do so because of the legislation
that we introduced. Whether it works in a particular town or city
depends on the circumstances. I have made the point before that
in London 85% of people coming into the city centre come in by
car. Nowhere else in Britain approaches that. Manchester is 60%
and most are down at 40%. It is up to local authorities and if
they want to work up schemes, which I have to approve unlike London,
the Department has made it clear it will help them to do that.
Just at the moment we are not being overwhelmed with requests
to put them in place.
Q321 Mr Thomas: The principle of
congestion charging is one that you accept?
Mr Darling: I am not sure whether
you are aware of it, but you may have seen in the newspaper about
three or four weeks ago I made the point that if we look at the
pressures we face over the next 20 to 30 years we cannot simply
seek to build our way out of the problems we face. We need a judicious
mix of new construction where it is needed, investment in public
transport, but I have said that we do need to look at options
such as road pricing.
Q322 Mr Thomas: You cannot see the
read across to aviation from that?
Mr Darling: Of course
Q323 Mr Thomas: Without accusing
anyone of wanting to stop people going on holidays!
Mr Darling: The point that I was
making is that if your policy is to price people off the aeroplanes
it has a consequence.
Q324 Mr Thomas: You are happy to
support a policy which prices people out of the city centre and
encourages them to take an alternative view both about the way
they travel and the way they can go about their business?
Mr Darling: You are right on that.
If you take congestion charging, the object of that is to encourage
people coming into the city centre to use public transport, not
to not come in at all.
Q325 Mr Thomas: Or not come in at
all or to do their business in a different way?
Mr Darling: I think you will find
that the Mayor of London is very keen that people should come
to the city centre because, at the risk of raising another problem
with tourism, a lot of people come and spend a hell of a lot of
money in the city centre.
Q326 Chairman: Some people will be
deterred, i.e. priced out of their journeys, because you are saying,
"We are pricing you out."
Mr Darling: Except that on the
evidence so far
Q327 Chairman: In principle some
people will be deterred.
Mr Darling: The explicit aim was
to reduce congestion in the city centre, not to keep people out
of it. There are some people who do not come through but there
is evidence to suggest that for north-south and east-west travel
people are varying their transport.
Q328 Chairman: Are you saying that
nobody is going to be deterred by the congestion charge?
Mr Darling: Nobody can say nobody
is but that was not the object of the exercise.
Q329 Mr Thomas: The object of the
exercise with aviation is not to deter people flying, it is to
make them pay the cost of the environmental impact.
Mr Darling: Let me finish the
point in relation to road pricing. Again the advantage of road
pricing is that certainly you do not want to deter people from
travelling because you want them to look at alternatives, like
trains for example, but road pricing would also allow you, for
example, to try and spread the load on roads throughout the day,
because at the moment the congestion is very peaked around morning
and, to a lesser extent, the evening rush hour. It comes back
to my central argument; both in those policies in relation to
our railway policy, which I discussed with Ian Lucas, and in relation
to road pricing, the objective is not to stop people travelling.
When you are talking about domestic air travel I made the point
when you have got a good rail alternative, then yes, that is something
you ought to encourage, but in terms of international air travel,
at the risk of being again accused of taking an extreme example
but I think it is one worth making, if you take trans-Atlantic
travel, you either go across the Atlantic in an aeroplane or you
do not go, assuming that you cannot afford the QEII. The whole
thrust of the Government's transport policy is to enable people
to move around as efficiently and as quickly as possible whilst
at the same time taking account of the environmental impact.
Q330 Mr Barker: But this is not across
the Atlantic, it is in the low-cost airlines and they are in short
haul primarily, not across the Atlantic so, Secretary of State,
your example is irrelevant. It is short haul growth, is it not,
that is the principle?
Mr Darling: Trans-Atlantic travel,
as you know, took a huge dip for obvious reasons two years ago;
it is now recovering.
Q331 Mr Barker: To previous levels.
Mr Darling: Yes, in some cases,
depending on the routes, it has recovered to that. Obviously we
are looking 20 to 30 years ahead, not three or four years ahead,
and that is something we are consulting on. Simon Thomas's point
was we were being inconsistent as between certain aspects of domestic
policy and air travel. The point I am making is in domestic travel
our objective is not to stop people travelling but to try and
Q332 Mr Thomas: You had the objective
in your 10 Year Plan to reduce the number of road journeys.
Mr Darling: No, we did not, we
wanted to tackle congestion.
Q333 Mr Thomas: Mr Prescott said
he would have failed if he did not reduce the number of road journeys.
Mr Darling: Go and look at the
10 Year Plan and you will see what the position is. I have studiously
not said that anything that people want to put forward is a no-hope
policy or anything like that. What I am doing is saying all these
arguments have their difficulties. As the Government we will reach
our view at the end of the year and you will be able to see what
the position is then. It is inevitably a difficulty when you are
asking me things at a stage when we have not yet come to a concluded
view. I understand full well why you are asking me from different
perspectives these questions but I am afraid I have to answer
as I can.
Q334 Mr Thomas: One of the other
things you have said today is you have to be alive to the consequences
in response to several questions here. Are you alive to the consequences
of your predict and build way of approaching aviation at the moment?
Mr Darling: Our policy is not
predict and provide.
Q335 Mr Thomas: It is not?
Mr Darling: No, as I have said.
Q336 Chairman: That is a very good
moment to finish the session onnot predict and provide.
I think it was a very robust session. Thank you very much for
enjoying the exchanges, as I think you probably did.
Mr Darling: I thoroughly enjoyed
Q337 Chairman: And I wish you well
on your air journey to the north of England!
Mr Darling: Thank you.