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Mr. Chapman: I realise that the tunnel workers and the police are working hard and make a considerable contribution. All I am suggesting is that there may be a needI put it no stronger than thatto examine the overheads. If they are as they should be, everything will be right and proper.
One side of the Mersey depends on the other; there is a mutuality of interests. Those who advocate that only the users of the tunnel should pick up the tab need to understand that. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Stephen Hesford: Is not the giveaway the fact that the previous Bill would have privatised the management? It was recognised that there was a problem. The previous Bill addressed it, but this one does not.
All Merseyside can benefit from, or be detrimentally affected by, the tunnels. It is not true that those who are closest to them benefit more and those who are furthest away benefit less. Many organisations are Mersey wide and not just based on the Wirral or elsewhere in Merseyside. That is how it is. Wirral is part of the Mersey partnership, and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and hosts of other organisations have interests on both sides of the Mersey. The recent inaugural sailing of a roll on/roll off ferry from Twelve quays to Ireland shows how the weighting of the mutuality of interest has increased on the Birkenhead side. However, a considerable flow of commercial traffic goes through the tunnels between the docks, and that traffic takes goods to Knowsley, Southport and Crosby. They all benefit from the use of the tunnels.
Mr. Wareing: Cancer patients on Merseysidewhether they live on the Wirral, Merseyside or in Southportoften have to make their way to Clatterbridge hospital on the Wirral for radiotherapy treatment. How do the Bill's supporters think that such people get across the river? Do they swim across? I suggest that they go through the tunnels. Does my hon. Friend realise that, in 2001-02, the ambulance service on Merseyside
Mr. Chapman: I was about to come to that. A preponderance of traffic may begin on the Wirral, but it goes to work in Liverpool and in other parts of Merseyside. It is a matter of mutual benefit, with the balance of advantage going to Liverpool and other parts of Merseyside rather than the Wirral. Every delivery from a store in Liverpool that is dispatched to the Wirral makes a contribution to the Liverpool economy. People go from the Wirral to work and invest in Liverpool; and many organisations benefit the people of Merseyside and not just the areas close to the tunnel.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Does my hon. Friend have any idea of when, as a result of the Bill, additional money would be released to support other public transport initiatives in Merseyside, and when those sums would be made available?
Mr. Chapman: As I understand it, the proposal is that, for the first four or five years, the extra money that might accrue from the Bill would go to fund health and safety mechanisms in the tunnels rather than to other projects. I hope that covers my hon. Friend's point.
People from the Wirral who travel to leisure facilities and to football matches contribute massively to the Liverpool and wider Merseyside economy. People travel through the tunnels from all parts of Merseyside and beyond. People from Southport may go to north Wales, and people from north Wales may go to the philharmonic. Lorries and commercial vehicles do business in one way or another all the time. The tunnels are a hive of activity and an essential one.
Those who work or live far from the tunnel entrances might think that they are not affected by them or do not benefit as much from them, but they are wrong. Travel-to-work areas are extensive and interlinked, and it is not always the case that those people are affected to a lesser extent. Some 40,000 people use the tunnels regularly. There are 80,000 vehicle movements a day through the tunnels, which amounts to 25 millionperhaps 35 millionvehicle movements a year. Those journeys affect all the people of Merseyside.
The Bill would allow the authority to use tolls to provide public transport facilities in the county of Merseyside in such a manner and for such purposes as it thinks fit. That goes a wee bit too far. The Bill proposes to give the Merseyside PTA an entirely free hand in financial matters and to use moneys raised for such purposes as it thinks fit. Would that include items such as the refurbishment of the chairman's office, recently refurbished at a cost of £24,000 when the location of the headquarters was in question? The facelift features include trendy light wood and glass, cabinets with subdued spotlights that highlight the chairman's Everton memorabilia on glass shelves built into a wooden wall-mounted unit, a matching light-wood conference table
The authority claims to have spent £100,000 on promoting the Bill. I would wager that it has spent substantially more than that, perhaps even multiples of it, and it covers only the direct costs. Does that sum include the fees for lawyers and, perhaps, barristers, public relations companies, a public affairs consultant and parliamentary agents? Does it include all the opportunity costs of management time that was spent on developing and promoting the Bill, which is largely unwanted on Merseyside?
Mr. Chapman: It would be something if that were so, but judging by the amount of literature that I have received from various sources within Merseytravel, it is evident that phenomenal sums have been spent, with or without my efforts. Do the figures include travel and subsistence costs?
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: My hon. Friend referred to the £100,000 used to fund the Bill, but he did not refer to the likely £500,000 cost of a public inquiry if the Bill does not get through. I regard this as investment today to save money tomorrow. How does he regard it?
Mr. Chapman: Frankly, I think that Merseytravel has to justify its proposed toll increases, and people need to be able to raise objections to them. We should not, whatever the circumstances, give Merseytravel carte blanche to raise its tolls with no justification besides the fact that the cost of living has risen. Toll increases would have a massively detrimental effect on the Merseyside economy, notwithstanding the points that were made earlier.
Merseytravel is, after all, the organisation that reportedly sent 20 people to an entirely abortive hearing at the Court of Referees. Apparently, it failed to foresee the need for safety measures, despite the fact that safety ought to be its first priority. It is now saying that it needs £14.2 million, and it will use the Bill to raise that money. Do we really think that we should give that organisation rights that are, in terms of private Bills, unprecedented when questions are posed about it?
It has been argued that the £14.2 million is the reason for Merseytravel's pursuit of the Bill, but in my view that is a red herring. It is not as though the ADAC report was unanticipated; it is not as though provision for health and safety had not been made. It is not as though the report's recommendations were mandatory or set in a time frame. It is not as though the tunnels were worse than others. The Wallasey tunnel got a good grade; indeed, I think that it may have come out on top. Even the Birkenhead tunnel was regarded as acceptable. We are not talking about tunnels that are bottom of the table.
Merseytravel, having said that it would strive for a public inquiry to raise the money, has apparently had second thoughts and suggested that safety might be a good argument for getting the Bill passed. It has been added to the arguments at a late stage. As I said, the safety argument cannot stand alongside the argument that the money will be used for other transport schemes on Merseyside, because it would prevent that.