Page last updated at 17:26 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 18:26 UK

Brown defends congestion question

Traffic in Manchester
A referendum on the charge will be held in December

Gordon Brown has defended the question to be used in the referendum on plans for a congestion charge in Manchester.

A £2.8bn package of investment in public transport is dependent on the introduction of the charge in 2013.

Labour's Graham Stringer, Blackley MP, urged Mr Brown to scrap the "divisive" vote on the "unfair" scheme in the Commons on Wednesday.

The question does not mention the congestion charge but Mr Brown said it had been approved "legally".

Some people have been angered by the referendum question, which will say: "Do you agree with the Transport Innovation Fund proposals?".

But the returning officer has stressed that an accompanying leaflet will outline the full details of the transport plans, including the road charge.

The question that is in the referendum had to be approved legally and that is what actually happened
Gordon Brown

Raising the issue at Prime Minister's question time, Mr Stringer (Manchester Blackley) said: "MPs of all parties are calling for a fair and unbiased question in the referendum on the question charge in Greater Manchester.

"What we are getting is a partial and biased question which doesn't even mention the congestion charge.

"Wouldn't it be better, given the current economic circumstances, if this unnecessary congestion was cancelled, if the divisive referendum was cancelled and we brought forward the investment in the tram system in Greater Manchester to an earlier date?"

Mr Brown replied: "The question that is in the referendum had to be approved legally and that is what actually happened."

Sir Neil McIntosh, returning officer for the Greater Manchester Transport Referendum, said: "I regret the continuing suggestion in some quarters that the question is biased because it does not mention the congestion charge.

"The wording on the ballot paper quite clearly mentions the congestion charge twice, just at it mentions the proposed investment in public transport twice.

"The question is immediately below this summary of the key issues of the Transport Innovation Fund proposals and is meant to be read in conjunction with it."

Day pass

Under the bid the Greater Manchester region would get £2.8bn to create what has been claimed would be a "world-class public transport system" from the government's transport innovation fund (TIF).

This would be subject to the introduction of a charging scheme in 2013.

A capped day pass of £10 is proposed for drivers, such as some delivery vehicles which cross charging rings repeatedly at peak times.

A massive publicity campaign is being waged by groups on both sides of the debate ahead of the referendum in December.

The referendum will decide whether that application for TIF funding is actually submitted to the government.


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