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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 January, 2005, 22:13 GMT
Improving the quality of people's lives

Margaret Beckett MP
Margaret Beckett has been Environment Secretary since 2001

Abandoned cars, dumped shopping trolleys, graffiti, litter and fly-posting.

These irritating eyesores on our streets are small stuff in the league table of misery compared with the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami or starvation in Africa.

But smaller stuff can still matter a lot to voters. And Ministers have been gripped by how passionately the public complains that the quality of their lives is blighted by the degradation of their local areas.

So the Government proposes to try to clean up our neighbourhoods. This week MPs will debate legislation to give local councils a range of enhanced powers from the immediate removal of abandoned cars to spot fines for littering.

Isn't the quality of people's lives much more ruined by drunken yobbery, burglary and robbery. Shouldn't that be the priority for the Government? We asked the Cabinet Minister responsible for the legislation, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Cars entering London's congestion charging zone
London has had road pricing since 2003

Car drivers - would you buy this deal? The Government scraps road tax and removes the tax on petrol. Instead you will pay for the road you use by the mile.

Though this is not yet government policy, the idea of road-pricing is being studied very seriously by ministers who have had to preside over a rise in road congestion when they once pledged to reduce it.

A major conference is being organised by Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary. And two billion pounds has been allocated to pilot various forms of charging.

Because there are crucial questions about how it might work. Would there be variable charges, higher for those using busier roads at peak hours? Which technology would be used? And how would Britain's 28 million motorists react?

All issues of concerns to MPs on the Commons transport committee who are just beginning their own investigation into road-pricing. Our reporter John Beesley begins his report from the one British city that already has congestion charging.

Westminster Hour
Interview with Margaret Beckett

Westminster Hour
Report on Road Pricing

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