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John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD):
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us the details of what happened in Edinburgh. The Labour authority's incompetent
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proposal on road user charging went out to a referendum in which it was wholeheartedly rejected by the citizens of Edinburgh. Will he tell us where he stands on road user charging? He is criticising the Liberal Democrats for their brave stand, so does he oppose the policy?
Mark Lazarowicz: The hon. Gentleman described the scheme as incompetent, but as I said, it was endorsed by an independent report following a comprehensive inquiry, so clearly many people did not think that. Yes, the scheme was rejected by the electorate in Edinburgh, but I was making the point that the Liberal Democrats were at the forefront of the campaign against it. This is an example of how politicians must talk the talk and walk the walk. They must deliver on both what they do locally and their national headline policies if they want to build a consensus on such an important issue.
I intervened on the hon. Member for Lewes to make the point that a national road user charging scheme would undoubtedly require a system to monitor the time at which drivers made their journeys and every journey made. A national system of information collection would be required so that people could be sent bills that reflected the number of miles that they had driven. I then contrasted that with the views of the Liberal Democrats on what would be a much less intrusive national identity register. I make that point because if we ever get to a stage at which we legislate for a national road user charging scheme, I suspect that the Liberal Democrats will be the first to find reasons to oppose it, just as they found reasons to oppose the congestion charging scheme in Edinburgh.
That is precisely what I think would happen in practice, so I have a lot of reservations about going down the road of thinking that national road user charging would be a panacea. If we were to follow that policy in the immediate five or 10 years, there would be a risk that measures that could otherwise be introduced to try to tackle the growth in vehicle traffic would not be implemented because we would be putting all our eggs in the basket of national road user charging. We have not been able to get consensus on policies such as motorway tolling and urban congesting charges, so I wonder whether we would get consensus on national road user charging. I have reservations about the policy; not perhaps because of the scheme itself, but because I wonder whether we would ever obtain the political consensus to make it possible.
John Barrett: We are listening to a non-stop attack on the Liberal Democrats. Has that been triggered by the massive fall in the hon. Gentleman's majority and the fact that he now has a very marginal seat?
Mark Lazarowicz: My comments are not motivated in that way. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I have taken this line of argument on many occasions in the past few months. I am sorry if he feels that I am engaged in a non-stop attack on the Liberal Democrats, because there is more to come before I move on to the wider political agenda.
I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Lewes, whose record demonstrates some principle in these matters. Like me, he recognises that we cannot simply wait until national road user charging is
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introduced, as though it will be the panacea for all our transport problems and the environmental problems caused by excessive transport growth. In fact, the hon. Gentleman is in favour of motorway tollinga controversial policy in many quarters.
As well as examining the Liberal Democrat manifesto earlier today, I took a quick look at an interesting websitethe hon. Gentleman's. The section entitled "Norman's Views" is interestingand pretty long; he has lots of views on many subjects. On transport, he says:
"on our roads we need to do what we can to persuade people out of their cars and onto public transport, without penalising those who have no alternative. That could for example mean road tolls on some of our motorways where a rail or air alternative exists. Someone driving from London to Edinburgh has a choice to use public transport."
I take it that he is suggesting introducing a toll on the roads from London to Edinburgh. It could not be a motorway toll, because we do not have motorways going all the way from London to Edinburgh; obviously he is not aware of that fact. None the less, it is an interesting policy. I am not sure that it is supported by the Liberal Democrat Transport Minister in the Scottish Executive, or even by his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West. I do not know whether motorway tolling between London and Edinburgh is Liberal Democrat policy, but I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Lewes for his bravery in suggesting it. He is, however, not so brave as to suggest road tolls in his own constituencyin fact, on his website he says that road tolling would not be possible there. Perhaps that speaks for itself.
In an intervention, I raised the proposal emanating from the French and German Governments, and now being taken forward in the G8, for a tax on air travel. I should have thought that the Liberal Democrats would support that proposal. In view of the criticism that they have levelled at the Bush Administrationmuch of which I supportsurely we must seek other ways of advancing the international agenda. I expected to hear positive support foror at least interest inthe German and French proposal from the hon. Gentleman, but as hon. Members who were present for his speech will have noticed, he quickly skipped over my invitation to discuss emissions trading and did not endorse the proposal for an aviation tax.
Norman Baker: Let me correct the hon. Gentleman. I am sympathetic to the aims of the French and the Germans. He is concerned that road user charging might mean that nothing else is done in the years leading up to such a scheme being introducedwhich is not our policy, by the way. Equally, if we put all our eggs in the aviation kerosene tax basket, regardless of whether that is the right environmental policy, nothing will happen in aviation until that is achievedand it is highly unlikely that we will get international agreement on aviation fuel tax. We have to find measures that, in the short-term at least, will be more effective.
I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman regards the airline tax proposal with some sympathy, but that sympathy does not appear to be shared by some of his Scottish colleagues. A headline in The Scotsman a couple of weeks ago read "Scots MPs hit
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out at airline tax for Africa aid plan", and his hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) appears to be leading the charge against the proposal, which would both tackle climate change and raise money for Africa.
Interesting though it is to go through their websites, I do not intend to spend all of the limited time available to me attacking the Liberal Democrats. I shall not refer in detail to the website of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed), which mentioned the £700 million investment programme in new roads in the south-west by the Department for Transport. I thought that he would oppose such a programme, but he appears to congratulate the Government on that major new road programme. The Liberal Democrats may have one headline policy, but there are different policies on the ground.
I am making those points to emphasise that everyone, if we are to tackle climate change, must recognise that the environment is not just a headline policy. We must be prepared to follow through and accept the consequences of policy choices. I accept some of the arguments for differential changing on air routes to the Scottish islands. There is a case on certain occasions for new roads. I am not against all road development, but as politicians we must be more consistent in our approach to those issues if we wish to try to change public opinion and achieve the consensus for which the hon. Member for Lewes and the right hon. Member for West Dorset called. If the Liberal Democrats genuinely want to achieve consensus with the Government they must do more to achieve the conditions in which it will be possible to develop it.
Having done all that party political stuff, I was going to adopt a less partisan approach but, in view of the time, I shall have to skip that part of my speech. Hon. Members will be relieved to hear that, but unless they would like to hear it, I shall simply make one point. The environment is an unsung success of European policy. Undoubtedly, the European project is under attack from various quarters, but we should not forget that a combined European approach on environmental issues has enabled the 25 countries to reach an agreement on targets for CO 2 emissions. That would have been unthinkable without the European Union as it has developed in recent decades. Everyone in the Chamber broadly supports the same policy direction on climate change, and most of us support a more effective Europe, so that agreement is one of Europe's most encouraging achievements in the past few years. It emphasises the fact that there are alternatives to following in the wake of whatever decision is made by the US Administration. The Government have a good international record on providing leadership on climate change, which is recognised in Europe and beyond.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) said that individuals need to make choices about what they can do to try to tackle climate change. The Government must show leadership, but as politicians we must show leadership both locally and nationally. My earlier excursion on the failings of the Liberal Democrats was a little longer than I
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intended, but I wanted to make the point that we must be consistent in what we say and do locally and nationally if we are to bring about consensus.
Finally, I remind hon. Members that they will have an excellent opportunity to display consensus on practical measures to tackle climate change, monitor this country's performance in controlling greenhouse gas emissions and advance practical measures to promote renewable energy, microgeneration and renewable heat when the private Members' Bills promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) and myself receive a Second Reading on 11 November. I hope that across the House there is support for my Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill and my hon. Friend's Management of Energy in Buildings Bill. Notwithstanding my criticism of the Liberal Democrats, I hope we will have their support. I hope that we will have support from the Conservatives and from the Government for those measures, which will give us an opportunity to take forward in a constructive way the agenda upon which, at heart, all Members who have spoken in the debate today agree.
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