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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2007, 07:11 GMT
Minister resolute on road tolls
Motorway at night
Downing Street set up online petitions in November 2006
The government will win over critics of its road-toll scheme before plans go through parliament, Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman has insisted.

He told the BBC's Newsnight that as well as Tony Blair's e-mail to those who signed a petition opposing the scheme, there will be local debates.

The petition, which closes at midnight, has been backed by 1.6m people on the Downing Street website.

It says tolls are "sinister and wrong" and unfair to poorer people.

Specifically, the petition calls for the scrapping of "planned vehicle tracking and road-pricing policy".

Tony Blair has revealed that he intends to send an e-mail to the people who have signed the online petition, telling them that charges for using the roads are "surely part of the answer" to solving the growing problems of congestion.

The petition was so popular that at one point it crashed the prime minister's website.

At least there will now be a debate and I welcome that
Peter Roberts

It appears on a new section of Downing Street's website, which was set up in November to allow anyone to address and deliver a petition directly to the prime minister.

Speaking during a debate on Newsnight, the transport secretary said the government would "engage" with those who backed the petition.

He added that the government would have a debate "based on the facts", rather than "myths" that he said had been "propagated alongside the petition".

'Public's attention'

Mr Ladyman said there would have to be a period of consultation and debates and a bill through parliament even before a local pilot scheme could go ahead.

"Between now and a national scheme there would be two general elections so there will be plenty of opportunities to engage people and win them over. And if we can't win them over, it can't go ahead," he said.

Among those taking part in the Newsnight debate was the man who started the petition - Peter Roberts, a 46-year-old account manager from Telford.

He said: "Before the petition, the government seemed to be trying to sneak this in through the back door.

"But at least there's going to be a debate and I welcome that."

Asked whether he believed the government was now listening as a result of the coverage of the issue, he said: "I'm not so sure they are listening but at least we've got their attention."

Later, on GMTV he suggested free school buses, park and ride schemes and the re-phasing of traffic lights were alternative solutions to solve road congestion.

He said road charging would be "destroying people's social lives".

"At the end of the day if you are going to pay per mile you are not going to do these things."


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