Britain will need to consider a national road pricing scheme, the Chancellor Alistair Darling has insisted.
In an interview with The Birmingham Post, Mr Darling dismissed reports ministers decided against road pricing following an outpouring of opposition.
Councils in the West Midlands turned down proposals this year for a pilot road pricing scheme in return for massive Government investment in public transport.
Their decision gave Greater Manchester authorities a clear run to put forward their own proposals and receive £1.5 billion for public transport, with permission to borrow £1.5 billion more.
But Mr Darling said charges could be imposed across the country, as an alternative to road taxes.
The Government first proposed a national scheme in 2005, but it was thought the policy had been abandoned as a result of public hostility.
A petition against road pricing started by Shropshire businessman Peter Roberts was signed by 1.8 million people. Former Transport Minister John Spellar (Lab Warley) emerged as one of the most outspoken critics.
Mr Darling told The Post he welcomed Manchester’s proposals – but a national scheme may also be needed in the long term.
He said: “Road pricing would mean you would move away from the present road taxation – fuel duty and road tax – to charge per distance varied according to how congested a road is. That is some considerable distance away. It is something every developed country will no doubt want to consider, because congestion will be a growing problem.”
He added: “It’s some time away. It is an idea – it will not go away. In the long term, as we try to deal with congestion, it is one of a number of measures to look at.”
The Chancellor said he was aware of the investment into Jaguar and Land Rover, which has plants in Birmingham and Solihull, by new owners Tata.
But he refused to criticise colleagues who chose Japanese-made Prius’ for their ministerial vehicles.
His comments followed the launch of a campaign by MPs including Sion Simon (Lab Erdington) and Ian Austin (Lab Dudley North) to encourage ministers to choose British cars.
Mr Darling, who has a Rover, said: “The Government car service provides you with a choice. You can either drive one particular model of Jaguar or a Prius, or if you can find another car that emits less CO2 you can have that, but the vast majority of the fleet are one or the other.
“So I think it does provide support for the car industry.
“But I think the main thing is to encourage all manufacturers whether here or anywhere else to manufacture cars which are as efficient as possible, both for economic and environmental reasons.”
He admitted that the current economic climate was “very difficult” for many people, but argued that this was a result of international trends over which the Government had no control.