By Nick Mays, Chief Reporter
A PLANNED proposal by the Government to introduce yet another tier of taxation in the form of road pricing will have serious implications for dog enthusiasts who travel long distances to shows.
The new road pricing taxation will motorists having to purchase a tracking device for their car and paying a monthly bill to use it. The tracking device will cost about £200 and in a recent study carried out by the BBC, the lowest monthly bill was £28.00 for a rural florist and £194.00 for a delivery driver. A non-working mother who used the car to take her children to school paid £86.00 in one month.
On top of this massive increase in tax, drivers will be tracked by satellite. The authorities – possibly a dedicated tracking unit attached to the police – will know where an individual is, if they are in their car, are at all times. They will also know how fast the motorist has been driving, so even if they accidentally creep over a speed limit, they may, in time, receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution with their monthly
Not only is the extra layer of taxation a matter for concern, but the erosion of yet more civil liberties is bound to cause consternation. The Government’s view on such concerns are that ‘the innocent have nothing to fear’ and – an inevitable view – that the tracking system will be invaluable for the police to combat crime and terrorism.
The cost (and civil rights) implications for exhibitors driving to shows and the effect this could have on entries are clear to see.
Motorists were being urged to sign an Internet petition on the official 10 Downing Street website, calling upon the Prime Minister to scrap the plans for the new tax and tracking system. The petition closed this Tuesday (February 20th) and attracted over 1.5 million signatures, the highest number of signatures in any such petition. The strength of feeling against the Department for Transport’s plans reached such levels at one point that it crashed the Prime Minister’s internet site.
But No 10 has insisted that ‘doing nothing’ would lead to a 25% increase in congestion ‘in less than a decade’.
The petition was posted by Peter Roberts, from Telford, Shropshire, who said it was an ‘unfair tax’.
Mr Roberts - whose petition broke through the million signature-barrier by 10.45 am last Saturday - believes charging is unfair on poor people and those who live apart from their families. He said the numbers signing his petition were ‘unprecedented’.
‘There certainly hasn't been an electronic petition that has been this successful. I think it is one of the biggest petitions in history,’ said Mr Roberts.
Mr Roberts has been a member of the Association of British Drivers (ABD) since 2001. Although he is acting as a private individual, the ABD supports his stance and is ling for a referendum on the issue, has been running a campaign to encourage people to sign.
The ABD's Nigel Humphries said the government ‘ought to reconsider their whole position, they ought to scrap the whole idea of road-pricing and actually go back to working out what transport people need’.
Plans to introduce a nationwide ‘pay-as-you-drive’ system were unveiled by former Transport Secretary Alistair Darling in 2005.
Mr Darling's successor, Douglas Alexander, has since suggested that road pricing could be brought in within a decade. He said the scale of the response to the petition showed more debate was needed on congestion charging for motorists.
‘The response to this petition makes the case for more debate, not less, on the issue of road pricing,’ he told the Times newspaper. ‘It makes me more determined to debate the real issues about how we tackle growing congestion.
‘I understand there are strong feelings on this issue but strong feelings alone are no substitute for considering how we tackle the challenge of congestion.’
The Department for Transport is planning regional trials of road pricing despite the strong feelings against the measure.
Peter Roberts added that the only way road pricing could work would be if people were constantly monitored.
‘That is an invasion of your privacy and I think it is a very sad day when a democratic government wants to track your movements,’ he said. ‘It is time for the government to listen to the people rather than dictate to the people.’
Last weekend, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he would send an email to the 1.5million people who signed the petition telling them it is ‘surely part of the answer’.
Writing in the Observer, Mr Blair admitted he did not expect to win over critics overnight but said the petition - on the 10 Downing Street website - had provoked a useful debate.
Mr Blair said it ‘Y’know, it is an opportunity, not because I share the petitioners' views - I don't - but because I know the country needs to have a full debate on how we tackle road congestion and this petition has helped spark it’.
He added: ‘Over the next few days I will be sending out a response to everyone who has signed the petition against road charging explaining the problems the country faces and why I believe road pricing is surely part of the answer here as it is in many other countries.
‘I'm not kidding myself that this will change people's views overnight. I am convinced, however, that the focus on this issue that the e-petition has brought about will help improve our understanding of the problems and the realisation that there are no cost-free answers.’
However, observers have said that Mr Blair or his likely successor as PM Gordon Brown would be very foolish to press ahead with a scheme which had such obvious public disapproval – especially one with an in-built ‘spying’ element.