Tory wants domestic flights to be taxed out of existence

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Flights within the UK should be taxed almost out of existence, a leading Tory MP said today.

Tim Yeo, who chairs the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, said he wanted to see "virtually no" domestic flights taking off within a decade.

Amid growing clamour over the emissions caused by politicians' long-haul holiday flights, Mr Yeo said radical action was needed closer to home first.

He said he now always travelled to Scotland by train "as a matter of conscience" and insisted there was "no reason at all why people should fly around the UK".

"Those flights should be knocked out," the former environment minister told GMTV in an interview to be broadcast by The Sunday Programme this weekend.

"What we should do is tax domestic flights so heavily and use the money to improve the railways so that in five years' time everyone is choosing to go by train within the UK.

"That would make a big step in right direction. The long-haul flights are harder to tackle, but the domestic flights we can be taking action on right now and we should be.

"I honestly do believe that within 10 years there should be virtually no domestic flights."

He attacked the Government for being "pretty timid" over aviation taxation.

"There is an opportunity here to show that Britain is really serious about climate change, about carbon emissions, about reducing the amount of flying, and if we did that I think the world would sit up and pay attention and we'd be setting an example that other countries could follow.

Mr Yeo, who was an environment minister in John Major's government, said: "Although we have technology that makes it possible to drive a car with very low carbon emissions, aircraft produce carbon emissions in substantial bodies.

"What we should be doing is tackling the domestic flights first. There is no reason at all why people should fly around the UK, fly from London to Edinburgh, London to Scotland, London to Glasgow, London to Manchester, London to Newcastle."

Most people travelling from London to Paris and Brussels now went by Eurostar, he said.

"That service is replacing the aircraft to a considerable extent."

If trains between the capital and Scottish cities, for example, could be made cheaper and more comfortable than flights, then the choice for travellers would be a "no brainer", he suggested.

He said he was not calling for a ban, "but I certainly don't think we should be using them in anything like the volume that we are now.

"Because I've become concerned myself about this, I'm choosing to go to Scotland by train as a matter of conscience now.

"I think more and more people would like to do that. We need to make it easier for them, and those people who don't think of it in that sort of way, we need to give them a price signal.

"But I honestly do believe that within 10 years there should be virtually no domestic flights."

Environmentalist Zac Goldsmith, who jointly heads the panel developing green policy for David Cameron, said extra tax on domestic flights was one option being looked at.

Mr Yeo was absolutely right to push the focus towards getting people off such services rather than looking at issues such as long-haul holidays, he said.

But he dismissed the theory that such a move would halt flights - saying it would instead be a way of raising extra money to pay for alternatives such as trains.

He told Sky News: "This is one of the things on the menu obviously; you can't look at this without considering the tax tool which is available to government.

"My view is that you would have to introduce such a large tax to change behaviour that probably the value is more in terms of raising money to build the alternatives, to improve the rail network.

"I'm not sure the tax itself would stop people flying; I think that's a bit of a myth," he said, pointing out that rising oil prices had not slowed car use.

"The obvious thing to do is to try to work out ways of getting people out of the planes and on to the trains," he said.

"That means improving the latter and probably adjusting the price of the former. I don't know any person who would prefer to go by plane when there's a train available.

"If you can get to a destination in the same time frame by train and if the cost is comparable, who would want to go by plane?

"These are big ifs. But in the unlikely event that you favoured the plane, it's not such a big sacrifice to go by train. It's not much to ask frankly.

"Asking people not to take any holidays and not to do these long-haul flights is more difficult obviously but let's deal with the easier stuff and not allow the more difficult things to become an excuse for inaction."

Conservative transport spokesman Chris Grayling said that Mr Yeo's view was "widely known" and recognised concerns about the growth of aviation.

But he said other factors had to be considered.

"We do need to remember the impact of aviation to different regions, particularly northern areas for example places in Scotland."