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Last Updated: Friday, 3 August 2007, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
Road tolls 'must respect privacy'
M6 Toll Road
Ministers say congestion cannot be allowed to grow unchecked
Drivers' privacy must be properly protected if local road charging schemes are to be introduced across England, a committee of MPs has said.

There was a "legitimate concern" about intrusion and "tough" guidelines were needed to address public fears.

Information should be shared across Europe if charges are to be collected from foreign drivers, MPs said.

Public consultation was fundamental and councils should not be able to "ignore" residents' concerns, they added.

The Commons transport committee has been examining the draft Local Transport Bill, which updates rules for councils which want to set up their own charging trials.

'Significant concern'

It said the bill "significantly" boosted the potential for rolling out local schemes - but said it was right that powers to introduce one national road toll scheme were not included in the bill.

MPs said the potential for intrusion into privacy remained a "significant and legitimate concern" which tended to undermine support for the schemes.

The government must not give local authorities the power to ignore the legitimate concerns of local residents
Gwyneth Dunwoody
Committee chairwoman

While witnesses questioned by the committee said the technology used to collect charges would protect privacy, MPs said they were not convinced that the rules were in place to guarantee this.

"The government must ensure that its statutory guidance relating to protecting privacy in charging schemes is tough enough to address public concerns," the report said.

The committee chairwoman, Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, added: "We need to know what information may be acquired and under what circumstances."

European agreement

The committee welcomed moves to give councils more freedom in deciding whether "pay as you drive" schemes were suitable for their area, what fees to charge and what method to use.

But it said there should be some standard method of collecting charges - to make things easier for drivers travelling through several different charge zones.

Money raised from charging schemes should be reinvested locally, MPs said, and the government should press for a European agreement on access to driver and vehicle licensing information if charges are to be collected from foreign motorists.

The government says it cannot allow congestion - predicted to rise by 40% by 2025 - to grow unchecked as it is bad for business and the environment.

'Stealth tax'

It has denied road charging is a "stealth tax" on motorists and is pressing ahead with 10 road-pricing pilot schemes around England.

But the idea has proved extremely controversial and sparked the most popular petition on the Downing Street website which was signed by so many people - more than 1.7 million - that it prompted a response from then prime minister Tony Blair.

In its report, the committee disapproved of proposals that would mean, in future, the transport secretary was not responsible for approving local schemes or ordering public consultations - which it says are "fundamental".

Mrs Dunwoody added: "The government must not give local authorities the power to ignore the legitimate concerns of local residents."

The committee also said local authorities should improve local transport so it provides a "real alternative" to driving.

And it recommended that an independent complaints body should be set up for bus users and unsafe buses should be impounded.


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