Election `97: Host of green pledges leaves rivals red-faced

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Indy Politics
The Liberal Democrats promise much more radical green policies than either the two main parties and, unlike their rivals, devote an entire manifesto chapter to the environment.

The most striking proposal is to have a "carbon tax" on coal, oil and gas. The money it will raise - the party has not yet said how much - would be used to cut VAT and employers' National Insurance Contributions.

Even if the party never has more than 30 MPs, it has played an important part in lifting environmental issues up the agenda. It did this with its 1992 and 1997 manifestos, and by having its MPs sponsor two important "green" private member's Bills which got through Parliament, on energy conservation and traffic reduction.

The party says the new carbon tax is needed for Britain to cut its annual emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide gas by 30 per cent over 15 years. That target is more ambitious than the Conservatives' 10 to 15 per cent, or Labour's proposed cut of 20 per cent by 2010. The cost of the annual tax disc for cars under 1600cc will be cut from pounds 145 to pounds 10 to boost sales of smaller vehicles which produce less pollution and carbon dioxide. The revenues lost by this tax cut will be replaced by putting the duty on road fuels up by 4p a litre.

Other green proposals include a levy on building developments on greenfield sites in town and country. Local councils will be allowed to bring in vehicle tolling systems for congested roads. VAT on energy-saving materials, such as insulation, will be cut from 15 to 8 per cent, the same as for electricity and gas. The Liberal Democrats promise to end fuel poverty in the 2 million lowest income households, with an insulation and draughtproofing programme, saving these homes an average pounds 85 a year.

The party says it would double the number of passengers carried on Britain's railways by 2010. Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth, said: "This is the greenest manifesto ever produced by any major party in Britain."