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23 Oct 2002 : Column 336—continued

7.24 pm

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): Two almost unique circumstances come together in the Bill, which warrants more than a debate on a simple procedural motion. The Bill would delegate tax-making powers from the House to a transport authority, and linked with those powers is this procedural motion to carry over the Bill into the next Session. Over the years, Mr. Deputy Speaker, some hon. Members have tried to catch your eye to try to ensure the success of our own measures, which have fallen at the end of a parliamentary Session. Although such a motion is not unique, it would be wrong to suggest that it is a common occurrence.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) has rightly said in the past, many aspects of the measure have support throughout the House. It is wrong for a transport authority to have to return to the House every time that it wishes to make the smallest change to a toll. It is clearly important that the transport authority can raise funds to manage the tunnels safely in Merseyside. It is important that the toll helps to pay off debts that have accumulated in the past.

It is also important that the measure gives the power to protect those tenants at the mouth of the Wallasey tunnel who do not gain financial support to install double glazing so that they are not disturbed by the noise emitted from the vehicles of those who use the tunnel. On all those fronts, there is general agreement in the House that this is a sensible measure. However, under the measure, the House would delegate tax-making powers to the authority, and I wish to speak about that briefly.

Stephen Hesford: Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the problems involved in the cumbersome procedure under which we labour tonight have been dealt with in public Bills? In the past, original legislation was amended by public Bills, not necessarily by this type of legislation. The benefit of that is that the entire House takes part in debating the legislation in the normal way. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be a better procedure for dealing with the issues that he properly raises?

Mr. Field: That intervention shows that my hon. Friend knows much more about the procedures of the House than I do. I am certainly persuaded by his argument, but I am not sure whether it helps me to make my substantive point.

Mrs. Dunwoody: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; there is always a frightening element in any intervention by a Cheshire Member in a Liverpool fight. However, I should point out to him that the advice that he has been given is not totally accurate. Of course it is almost accurate, but not totally accurate. The motion is not unusual or unique, and it has implications for all local authorities on both sides of the Mersey. I hope that hon. Members will not confuse the content of the Bill with what is a procedural motion. I would be

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very sorry if any Labour Member were to seek to stop debate or hinder the progress of a Bill not on what is actually happening, but on the content of the Bill.

Mr. Field: That brings me to the substantive point: if the Bill were to proceed and be successful, it would give an authority in Merseyside tax-making powers. We all know that, if we do not want a measure to proceed, we use whatever means we can to prevent that from happening.

I have lobbied the transport authority to say which aspects of the Bill I support and which I do not, and I have asked it whether it will accept the amendments that I have tabled. It has successfully drafted a letter back saying that it would say whether it supports those amendments after tonight's vote. In those circumstances, although I support much of the Bill and said in a brief intervention in the long speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South that I would vote for the Bill on Second Reading, I will vote against the carry-over motion tonight.

7.29 pm

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): I shall try to be brief and to stick to the procedure. I am conscious that the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) may wish to contribute in his usual laconic way, and I would hate him to have to hurry.

Here we are again, debating a piece of legislation and trying to keep it alive. I would like to refresh hon. Members' memories of the reasons why we find ourselves in this position. Parliament has a procedure for private Bills, which we can all identify but which makes it virtually impossible for a private Bill of this nature to proceed. Such a Bill is in danger of being killed by circumstance rather than by a decision of Parliament. This is almost a textbook illustration.

Stephen Hesford: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a Bill can be killed by incompetence? Is that not the case in relation to this Bill and its promoters?

Dr. Pugh: That has yet to be demonstrated. What was demonstrated last July was how easy it was for a Bill to be killed simply by the contribution of one Member—one Member had the power and capacity to talk it out and decide its fate. It would not have mattered whether that Member were backed by millions, by himself or by the press; he had the capacity, the potential and the ability to do so alone. Some may be unhappy with a majority decision in this place, but many more are unhappy with what is effectively a minority decision. No one in the country, the media, the Chamber or anywhere else would be prepared to stand up, not for opposition to the tunnels Bill, but for the principle that a serious issue for the House might have been decided by the filibustering of one Member. That procedure is antique.

Mr. Miller: If the hon. Gentleman is such a purist in terms of democratic procedure, does he agree that the Bill's promoters should find a mechanism to negotiate and to raise the issues with people in my constituency who suffer the tunnel tolls on a daily basis?

Dr. Pugh: I was coming to that point. As a relative newcomer to the House, however, I must say that

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deciding a matter of principal public importance in the way that we do is about as sensible as making public policy by examining chicken entrails. I daresay that if there were mention of chicken entrails in XErskine May", there would still be some staunch opponents of that procedure, too.

Mr. Field: I disagreed strongly with the line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) on Second Reading, as I thought that we should advance and see whether the transport authority would be reasonable in accepting amendments. In relation to the hon. Gentleman presenting such a line against my hon. Friend, however, most of the successes of Back Benchers in the House have resulted from employing the very technique that my hon. Friend employed—they denied time to the rest of the House to get a measure through.

Dr. Pugh: The fact that Back Benchers have to employ that technique is a criticism of the procedures of the House. If the opponents of the Bill believed that something was amiss democratically, it would be possible and conceivable for them to recommend another procedure. They could, for example, suggest that the decision should not be made in the House but should be devolved to the local authorities of the area. They will not do that, and they will not urge the Government to do that, because they know what the result will be.

Stephen Hesford: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Pugh: If I may, I shall proceed with my point.

If the majority of the councillors, elected by the majority of the people on Merseyside, were asked how they would vote on this recommendation, they would unquestionably say that the Bill should proceed and not that it should be blocked by the filibustering of one individual. I am amenable to all suggestions on procedure, and if there were a wish to do it another way, we could have a vote—

Mrs. Dunwoody: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not continue to use the word Xfilibuster", as it is forbidden by the rules of the House. I also remind him that it can be difficult to know whether some of his colleagues in the Liberal party are making their normal speeches or filibustering.

Dr. Pugh: With due respect, in this case, two wrongs do not make a right. I shall use whatever word the hon. Lady suggests is appropriate to describe such a performance, but it is not an elegant or attractive performance for the public at large. It does not indicate that this is proper democratic establishment. We need a procedure that allows us to make adequate progress with a private Bill, and we do not have such a procedure.

Mr. Miller: I am attracted by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but he still has not answered the point. As he is a member of a minority party, surely he understands the need to protect the rights of minorities. My constituents have no say in this matter, yet they suffer

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daily the penalties of tunnel tolls. Under his mechanism, how would my constituents get a say in the decision-making process?

Dr. Pugh: May I suggest that there are individuals in the hon. Gentleman's constituency called councillors? Some of them will be called Labour councillors, and some of them will be asked questions about what they stand for—I presume that they could be asked about the Mersey Tunnels Bill and lobbied by their constituents. A set of arrangements exists. The hon. Gentleman would not, however, agree with the procedure that I recommended a moment ago—letting the councils decide.

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