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Part of Supplementary Estimates 2009-10 — Department of Health – in the House of Commons at 5:16 pm on 10th March 2010.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 5:16 pm, 10th March 2010

I welcome the Transport Committee's report and the presentation given by the Chair, Mrs. Ellman. I agree with her about the economic and social importance of the road network, and I agree that motorists require a fair deal, involving intervention from the Government as appropriate. The Government's response to the challenge of the road network and the requirements of motorists is to look into congestion, emissions, road safety and any other small irritants that unduly affect motorists.

For example, the abhorrent behaviour of private sector wheel-clamping companies ought to be stopped. My hon. Friend Tom Brake made an attempt during proceedings on the Crime and Security Bill, which was recently before the Commons, to deal with that, but unfortunately, Conservative and Labour Members rejected it. There ought to be some agreement on that issue. I also acknowledge the Government's good record on road safety in recent years. There has been a significant decrease in the accident rate, and especially in deaths, which is very welcome.

At the centre of the debate, as the Chair of the Committee said, are charges and taxes, the extent to which they should be used for purposes other than raising money for good causes, such as schools and hospitals, and the method by which they are levied. I agree with the Government, who in response to the Committee's report said:

"Motoring taxes are primarily revenue-raising instruments, whose principal purpose is to support the public finances and raise funds for public services. Motoring taxes do also have an environmental aspect too...Where possible and appropriate, it is right for the structure of revenue-raising taxes to support environmental objectives."

That is a sensible policy. The question is whether it is being applied as effectively as it might be.

We sometimes hear from the motoring lobby that motorists pay a huge amount in motoring taxes and get very little back, and the Chair of the Committee dealt with that to some degree. Suffice it to say that if there were an exact in-and-out financial arrangement, there would not be enough money for other services such as schools and hospitals, and it is difficult to see how the money could be raised for those purposes. We cannot charge directly-at least, I hope we cannot-for schools and hospitals, so some elements of the economy have to provide a net income stream for those aspects that are for the general good.

It is also fair to say, as the Chair of the Committee did when she referred to the answer to my written question, that the relative cost of motoring has decreased by 14 per cent. since 1997, and that the cost of travelling by train and by bus has increased over that period. The cost of air travel has also decreased, so we have the rather odd arrangement whereby the more carbon one emits, the cheaper it becomes to travel, and the less carbon one emits, the more expensive it becomes to travel. That is somewhat out of line with the Government's strategy on carbon reduction.