Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 08:48 GMT
Prescott defends transport plans
Car charges will be spent on public transport, the government says
John Prescott has hit back at the "poll tax on wheels" jibe levelled at car charges set out in the Queen's Speech.
And he promised he would not force local authorities to implement his proposals for new driving tolls.
Mr Prescott, who is the transport and environment secretary, claimed critics who had sniped at his apparent inability to get transport reform on the parliamentary timetable before were simply wrong.
But facing yet another backlash from the press - with headlines predicting "road rage" and "war on motorists" - he argued the government had to take brave decisions.
"You can't sit and do nothing - that would be the worst solution for the motorist," he said.
"It's the same people who realise that the congestion is getting worse and they want to see the improvement in public transport.
"They want to have the choice first before they are forced to pay any more."
Concerns over car charges are likely to figure prominently in the opposition attack.
Conservative leader William Hague described the plans as a "declaration of war" against drivers in the debate after the Queen's Speech .
The party's transport spokesman, John Redwood, continued the theme on Thursday, saying he believed the government had a vendetta against motorists.
Many Labour MPs are also wary of the proposals to sell off 51% of the National Air Traffic Service. Former transport minister Gavin Strang, who has led internal dissent on the issue, branded the move "an own goal with potentially serious consequences".
But the deputy prime minister insisted he was pursuing an integrated transport policy.
The government's strategy was to use money from fuel taxes and extra car charges to fund public transport.
This principle applied to new powers to be handed to local councils under the Transport Bill.
"It means that whatever money is raised in this way it has to be raised by a local council and if that money is raised it has to be put in a special pot and used only for public transport," the deputy prime minister said.
But he admitted most local authorities would probably not be keen to burden motorists with new charges, although he argued those that had pursued novel transport policies had reaped rewards.
On the timing of the Transport Bill, Mr Prescott insisted he had agreed with the prime minister that it would not come before the third year of the Blair government. "Given the conventions I couldn't say that before," he said.
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