Green tax to hit aircraft and cars that waste petrol

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Gas-guzzling cars and "four by fours" will face higher taxes under Liberal Democrat plans to penalise polluting vehicles and cut carbon emissions which lead to global warming.

Gas-guzzling cars and "four by fours" will face higher taxes under Liberal Democrat plans to penalise polluting vehicles and cut carbon emissions which lead to global warming.

Vehicles that use low-carbon fuels will pay less tax under plans published yesterday to use the tax system to reward environmentally friendly behaviour.

The Liberal Democrats warned they would raise taxes for four-wheel drive vehicles - dubbed "Chelsea tractors" - not only because they used a lot of petrol but because they were potentially dangerous to children who, they claimed, could be caught under them if hit.

A Liberal Democrat plan to introduce a new aircraft tax, to be paid by all aircraft, regardless of the number of passengers - a proposal designed to encourage airlines to fill seats - is expected be sharply resisted by the aviation industry and passenger groups who fear the taxes could bring an end to cheap fares abroad.

But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, argued that his party would harness the tax system to 'reward environmental good behaviour and discourage bad.'

"We'll make it cheaper for people who drive smaller cars. And more it expensive for those who want to persist with their gas-guzzlers," he said. "Since 1990, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the aviation industry has almost doubled to just under 40 million tonnes a year. So we'll tax the actual aircraft which cause the emissions rather than the passengers for whom air passenger duty would be a thing of the past."

The Liberal Democrats also voted for a plan to introduce a 10p tax on plastic bags to encourage people to take their own bags to the supermarket. The party plans to analyse if this policy will lead to people re-using bags or turning to black bin liners which would not be taxed.

Yesterday, in a lively debate on the environment, activists urged the party to project a simpler and bolder message to win voters disaffected by the two main parties. They said the language used by the party in environment debate was too complicated for most voters.

"We know we are the greenest party but we need to engage the green vote," said Councillor Michael Newby, of Harrogate and Knaresborough. "There is a large green constituency in this country wanting a home. Make the message bold and make the message simple.'

Vince Cable, the party's Treasury spokesman, argued that the tax system could be harnessed to persuade people to behave in an environmentally responsible way. "We are not talking about creating new taxes, we are talking about using the taxes that exist to change behaviour," he said. "The environmental taxes that we want to introduce would be revenue neutral."

But some Liberal Democrat councillors criticised the party leadership for not expressing explicit reservations about nuclear power in the motion tabled yesterday. "The motion fails to mention the threat of the revival of nuclear power," said Peter Chivall from Peterborough. "The dark forces are still there lobbying governments, saying: 'take our nice clean shiny technology which was only invented to make bombs anyway'."

Jonathon Porritt, the chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, which has advised Tony Blair on how to tackle climate change, was critical about the government's progress on green issues and praised the Liberal Democrats as the effective opposition on the environment. He singled out Norman Baker for praise for campaigning to improve Britain's environment.

"We have seen more than enough of a succession of emaciated green rabbits emerging from the Chancellor's shiny top hat having a good look around before losing heart and disappearing out of sight for another year," he said.

Earlier the party voted to find better ways to dispose of toxic and hazardous waste. Sue Doughty MP, an environment spokesman, warned that the "lack of capacity" for disposing of waste in landfill sights could lead to illegal fly-tipping.

"The government must tackle the hazardous waste crisis before the environment suffers irreparable damage," she said. "Serious questions must be asked of ministers to where this waste is going."