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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK

UK: Scotland

Tories in drive against road tolls

Labour believes road tolls could ease traffic congestion

The Scottish Conservatives have stepped up their opposition to road tolls, arguing that drivers should not have to pay to use routes like the M8.

In a Scottish Parliament debate, the party pressed the Scottish Executive to scrap proposals to levy tolls on motorists.

BBC Scotland's John Morrison says the debate was a heated one
The Tories argued that motorway and city tolls would increase taxation on drivers and have a hugely damaging effect on Scottish business.

The Labour-led Scottish Executive has suggested motorway tolls and city entrance charges to cut congestion and raise revenue for improving transport links.

But the Tories said this was a con which will increase drivers costs with no guarantee the money raised will be spent on new or improved roads.

'Major gaps'

They also said that tolls on the M8 would only force drivers onto other roads, doing nothing to improve the environment.

And they highlighted fears that Scottish business would be priced out of the market.

Environment Correspondent Louise Batchelor looks at toll systems elsewhere
Transport spokesman Murray Tosh said: "Although we applaud efforts to encourage greater use of rail and buses, the simple reality is that an enormous share of our transport depends upon road vehicles.

"It simply is not possible to promote an integrated transport policy without placing the trunk roads system at its heart.

"In Scotland's circumstances that means that it is urgently important that major gaps in the trunk road and motorway network are closed as soon as possible."

The Scottish Executive wants a package of measures to make best use of roads.

Ministers reminded the Tories that it was the Conservatives who first suggested road tolls.

'Frankly ridiculous'

Sarah Boyack, the Scottish Transport Minister, said: "The whole point of our transport strategy is to consult people. We have asked people a number of questions in that transport consultation document and I await their views with interest.

"I think the proposal from the Conservatives that we cut short this debate and wait for a better climate before we consider it, and duck the crucial issues that are in front of us are frankly ridiculous."

The Scottish National Party attacked both the Tories and the Executive over road tolls.

Spokesman Kenny McAskill said: "We think it is nonsense. What is the logic of bringing in motorway tolls? Is it environment, well we put down a written question and asked them what would be the effect on the reduction of journeys.

"What answer did we get? 'Well, we don't really know.' It's maybe aye, maybe no, depends what you do, depends how you run it."

Gaelic contribution

The debate heard the parliament's first contribution in Gaelic.

The Liberal Democrat MSP John Farquhar Munro accused the Tories of hypocrisy in their calls for no road tolls.

He said the Conservative government had introduced the highest tolls in Europe on the Skye Bridge in his constituency.

When MSP's intend to speak in Gaelic in the chamber they have to give notice so that simultaneous translation can be provided.

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