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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Air tax hike 'would hit poorest'
Air passengers
The report said air travel was the fastest growing source of CO2
Raising air travel taxes would only hit poorer people, said ministers as MPs accused them of failing to stop transport that fuels global warming.

Carbon dioxide emissions from aviation are set to rise five-fold, the Commons environmental audit committee says.

It says the government has a "fatalistic" approach to the problem.

But budget airline Easyjet said the MPs' calls for higher taxes would be unfair to poor holidaymakers and fail to make planes more efficient.

The MPs say transport is the only sector of the UK economy where carbon dioxide emissions have risen consistently since 1990, including a doubling in air traffic emissions.

Unless the Department for Transport raises its game, transport will go on rising so fast that almost anything else we do is going to be really useless
Tim Yeo
Environmental audit committee

They are pushing for tax on air travel to be charged per flight, rather than per passenger - and be extended to cover air freight.

And passengers should have to pay to "offset" the emissions from their flight by funding green projects elsewhere.

Efficiency drive

But an Easyjet spokeswoman said: "The idea to price the most price-sensitive and less affluent customers (i.e. the poorest in society) out of the sky as the means to reduce emissions from aviation is not only a blunt and unimaginative measure - but it is also unnecessary."

Better options included reforming air traffic control and ending state aid, which often funded outdated planes, she said.

Jaguar X type 2.0 petrol saloon auto
Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe 3.6 litre petrol
Renault Espace 2 litre petrol
BMW X5 4.8 litre petrol
Range Rover 4.4 V8 petrol auto
Source: Department for Transport, examples of cars in top new VED band

Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman also resisted higher passenger taxes, saying those on good wages would still be able to afford to go on holiday.

"What we need is a system which effectively taxes inefficient airlines or taxes those airlines that don't invest in the more modern aeroplanes," said Mr Ladyman.

That was why the government wanted aviation included in the European Union's emissions trading scheme, he argued.

Tax hike

Planes are not the MPs' only target. They also want bigger penalties for drivers of "gas guzzling cars".

They welcome the recent introduction of variable Vehicle Excise Duty, which means that the lowest-carbon cars pay no road tax, while gas-guzzling 4x4s pay an increased rate of 210.

But they say the measure should be extended, highlighting calls for the top band to rise to 1,800.

Under the plans, lower bands would be at 300 intervals down to the least-polluting cars which would be tax-free.

The report says the purchase of zero-tax cars fell between 2004 and 2005.

It also suggests a return to the fuel tax escalator, which increased the cost of petrol above inflation to deter road usage and caused widespread protests six years ago.

Road tax hikes

Committee chairman Tim Yeo said: "Unless the Department for Transport raises its game, transport will go on rising so fast - and particularly aircraft - that almost anything else we do is going to be really useless."

He said the variable road tax introduced by the government barely amounted to the cost of filling a fuel tank, he argued.

Mr Ladyman said the government did not "rule out doing more in the future" on the tax levels.

But he was not sure that measure would deter people from buying gas guzzlers when they were already prepared to pay thousands of pounds for extra fuel.

He also argued that the speed limit should be based on safety and was not a cost effective way of tackling pollution.

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Chris Huhne said the MPs' report backed his party's plans for using green taxes to change behaviour without raising overall taxation.

Hear what the committee of MPs has recommended

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