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23 Oct 2002 : Column 333—continued

Mersey Tunnels Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question,

Question again proposed.

7.15 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): As the sponsor of the Bill, I wish to speak in support of the motion, which is procedural and not about the Bill's merits.

The Bill is promoted by the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority, which together with its passenger transport executive is known as Merseytravel. The PTA comprises councillors from the five local authorities on Merseyside: Knowsley, Liverpool city, Sefton—

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The sound system does not seem to be working—none of us at this end can hear a word my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) is saying.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I will ask for that to be investigated. I could hear the hon. Lady perfectly well, but perhaps that could be examined. May I appeal to the hon. Lady to raise her voice in the meantime?

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a matter of clarification. If the motion were passed this evening, would there be no further Second Reading of the Bill in the next Session of Parliament?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: If the motion were passed, the Bill would resume in the next Session at the position that it has reached up to now. Second Reading has been obtained.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In your capacity

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as Chairman of Ways and Means, you tabled this motion, which, as I understand it, has the carry-over effect. Is it right to presume that the promoters of the Bill made representations to you that there should be a carry-over, as distinct from a revival? I understand that that would have been an alternative possibility.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The motion would not have been on the Order Paper had I not received representations.

Mr. Miller: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are those representations in the public domain? I just ask as a matter of inquiry.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not clear that this is part of a perfectly proper procedure? There has been a very long debate about the Bill, which has implications for a lot of local authorities. We are not doing anything revolutionary. Is this not the same procedure as normally happens under carry-over procedure?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We are operating perfectly in accordance with precedent. Nothing unusual has taken place.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: The passenger transport authority comprises councillors from the five local authorities on Merseyside: Knowsley, Liverpool city, Sefton, my own authority, St. Helens and Wirral. All those authorities support the Bill, as does Halton borough council, which is responsible for the Runcorn crossing of the Mersey.

The promoters have placed a statement in support of the motion in the Vote Office. As we are debating a procedural motion, this is not the occasion on which to discuss the Bill in detail. However, it may be helpful to remind hon. Members about the purpose of the Bill and its progress through the House.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): Will the hon. Lady look at paragraph 12 of the promoter's statement in support of the carry-over motion, which asserts,

Is she aware that Councillor Jacquie McKelvie, the Conservative representative on Merseytravel, is against the Bill and voted against it on 25 July?

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observation. I am afraid that I was not aware of that fact, and I will seek further details after the conclusion of the debate.

The Bill was introduced in January and received its Second Reading on 9 July, after which it was committed to an Opposed Bill Committee. That Committee was due to consider the Bill earlier this month, but it had to be cancelled because one of the petitioners could not attend, unfortunately.

The Bill would amend the County of Merseyside Act 1980. First, it would replace the present tunnels' toll revision procedure, which is complex, lengthy, costly and always involves a public inquiry, with an index-linking mechanism, which would end the need for

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Merseyside's council tax payers to fund the operating deficits that the current procedures almost invariably produce. Secondly, it would provide that any real-terms increase in tolls would need to be approved by the Secretary of State.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West): My hon. Friend is doing her best to put her case before the House, but does she accept that, in fact, the current figures do not show a deficit? The toll produces a break-even state of affairs and has done so for some years.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: That inquiry would have been better made on Second Reading. I wish to speak to the motion, which is procedural.

Stephen Hesford: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I adhere to the ruling that the motion is narrow, but surely, if an hon. Member raises a matter—the hon. Lady raised the substantive issue of the toll deficit—other hon. Members can respond.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not wish to hear a detailed debate about the substance of the Bill. If the motion is carried and there are further debates on the Bill, there will be opportunities for the House to consider detail. I am allowing the hon. Lady, in support of the motion that she is moving, to make a summation of the general purport of the motion to advance the Bill, but I shall not expect her to dilate too much on that either.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Bill would allow any surplus income to be used for local public transport services on Merseyside. It would remove the requirement for tolls to be reduced when the tunnel debts have been repaid. Lastly, it would permit Merseytravel to carry out noise insulation work on the properties near the tunnel approach roads on the Wirral.

Mrs. Dunwoody: It is important to make it clear that we are not debating the Bill's content, the charges, or the rights and wrongs of who does and does not support it; we are talking about whether it should be allowed to proceed, which would give hon. Members of all political persuasions the opportunity to comment on many of those matters later. Attempts to stop the right to discuss that procedure would be unhelpful.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I thank my hon. Friend for that significant contribution. She is a distinguished hon. Member, and she has adequately and generously identified the reason why we are here this evening, which is to discuss not the Bill's merits, but a procedural motion.

The House has already committed the Bill to an Opposed Bill Committee, and the motion will allow proper scrutiny of the Bill to take place in that Committee. As a precursor to that scrutiny, the Government have reported on the Bill and made it clear that they have no objection to its key provisions. Promoters and petitioners are entitled to expect Parliament to give careful and reasoned consideration to private Bills on their merits and, by convention, the

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House allows such Bills to be carried over to enable that to happen. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

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