Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, made clear his strong support for a national congestion-charging scheme for trunk roads yesterday.
Backed such a scheme for the first time, Mr Darling suggested that drivers could be persuaded to use motorways at off-peak times by charging them less for doing so. He also said that a satellite-based system for making "better use of road space" should not be regarded as anti-motorist.
Defying the strong anti-toll campaigns being waged by right-wing tabloid newspapers, he told a motor industry conference that journeys could become quicker and more reliable with the introduction of different levies at different times of the day. He said pollution would be reduced and safety enhanced. It would also benefit people who used their cars less or who travelled at times that did not inconvenience other motorists. The Government had announced in the summer an inquiry into the possibility of introducing a road-pricing scheme.
Mr Darling said privacy would need to be preserved with the use of a satellite-based system and indicated that a national congestion charge was likely to be introduced by a Labour government within 20 to 30 years.
He said: "Inevitably some will say this is anti-motorist. To them I say that to do nothing, to refuse to consider the problem, is to be anti-motorist."