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23 Oct 2002 : Column 342—continued

Mr. Wareing: I know that my hon. Friend does not want to repeat what was said in the previous debate. However, has he read the edition of the Liverpool Echo that appeared on the Saturday after that debate? A huge article on the front of the newspaper and a column inside tore to shreds the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) that persuaded many Members. If people had been made aware of those views—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We are not returning to that debate, and I shall certainly rule it out of order if any further attempt is made to do so.

Stephen Hesford: I understand my hon. Friend's point.

It is clear to me, as I hope it is to other hon. Members, that despite badly losing the debate on Second Reading, when we heard an incomparable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman), the House was deprived of an opportunity to tackle this serious issue in a comprehensive and useful manner. The arcane procedures under which we labour prevent us from doing that, which was the very point made by the hon. Member for Southport.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. In giving advice to the hon. Member for Southport, I ruled that the debate is not about the procedures that affect private Bills. If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate the subject, I am sure he will find a means of doing so, but it will not be in the debate tonight.

Stephen Hesford: With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall pursue that for a moment. The procedure is unusual. Private Bills do not come before the House

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every day. Some understanding of the stage that we have reached is vital for the House when it decides whether this is the—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The procedure might not come before the House frequently, but it is a normal and familiar procedure. The Bill has obtained a Second Reading. The only question tonight is whether we allow it to be carried over into the next Session.

Stephen Hesford: Well—

Mr. Frank Field: Although it is proper that we are guided towards the fact that the procedure is normal, does my hon. Friend agree that it is abnormal to have a Bill that gives tax-making powers to a transport authority? No one is against people paying to use the tunnel and for its upkeep. No one is against people who use it paying off the debt that has accumulated. No one who uses the tunnel and pays the toll is against repaying the local authorities that, out of the goodness of the taxpayers' heart, bailed out the project many years ago. No one who uses it is against those tenants and residents who live around the Wallasey tunnel being properly protected. What is at stake, however, is a Bill that allows a transport authority to raise money that can be spent on things that have nothing to do with the tunnel—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken once. He cannot speak a second time.

Stephen Hesford: I agree with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. George Howarth: I believe that my hon. Friend, who is an hon. Member of the House, inadvertently misled us. He said that delays in the procedure were brought about entirely as a consequence of the actions of the promoters. I have checked the facts. Second Reading could have taken place in May. As that would have been in the middle of local elections, it was decided that that was not an appropriate time to debate the Bill in the House. The Committee had the opportunity to meet in October. The request for that not to proceed came not from the promoter, but from one of the Bill's opponents, the north-west Trades Union Congress.

Stephen Hesford: I am happy to go round in circles, if my hon. Friend so wishes.

Mr. Howarth: I am not asking my hon. Friend to go round in circles. For the purposes of accuracy, I am merely asking him to amend the impression he wrongfully and, I am sure, inadvertently created.

Stephen Hesford: We have to agree to differ. My hon. Friend is not right.

Bob Spink : I did not intend to intervene, but I have a duty to inform the House, as an independent person, that the facts set out by the hon. Member for Knowsley,

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North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) are absolutely accurate. I assure the hon. Gentleman of that and hope he accepts it.

Stephen Hesford: The House must reach its own conclusion on who is right. I do not resile from my position. I genuinely believe that I am right; others may have a different view.

Dr. Pugh: As the hon. Gentleman is in a position to review his errors, I remind him of what the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said about the uniqueness of the Bill, which will enable funds to be used for purposes not directly related to the tunnel. I am sure that the Minister will tell him that in many transport schemes, including pay and display schemes, funds are used for a variety of transport purposes. So the use of such funds for those purposes is neither unique nor improper.

Stephen Hesford: I am not sure where that takes us. The House heard my right hon. Friend make his point, which he made well.

Mr. Frank Field: I claimed that the Bill was unique not on the grounds set out by the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) but because we will never discuss the power again if we delegate it to the transport authority.

Stephen Hesford: The House should grasp that point, if no other.

The Bill was last debated on Second Reading, when only about 130 Members took part. It was 7 pm on a Wednesday evening and the decision was based on a free vote, so it was not unlike tonight. Three out of four right hon. and hon. Members do not participate in such procedures and we are deprived of their experience and wisdom simply because this is private business.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already told the hon. Gentleman not to talk about that in general. We are talking about a specific motion that relates to a specific Bill.

Stephen Hesford: I apologise. I shall do my best to confine myself to the narrow motion before us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. And I shall do my best to apply the Standing Orders of the House as fairly and objectively as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is not careful, they may be to his prejudice.

Stephen Hesford: The serious issues raised by the Bill, especially whether there should be a carry-over, never get the discussion or scrutiny that they deserve. The procedure arises from an historical accident. The House has not prescribed the procedure in a modern sense—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman almost anticipates my ruling. He continues to talk about the procedures of the House on private business. That is not in order.

Stephen Hesford: Once again, I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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I want to put on the record what the motion says. [Interruption.] I hear an hon. Member say from a sedentary position that we have been there. Frankly, we have not. We heard some of the motion, but not all of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the motion will be in the Official Report. I do not expect it to be repeated now.

Stephen Hesford: Of course I will entirely abide by your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which I accept.

I shall summarise the motion for the purposes of my argument, so that hon. Members have the benefit of understanding my remarks in the context of the words on the Order Paper: the promoters of the Mersey Tunnels Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings. As I understand it, that means that the Bill will be held in abeyance, and if the procedure is not followed, the Bill will fall on Prorogation. If the carry-over is allowed, the Bill will continue its life. I submit to the House that the motion has a serious constitutional consequence, and I question whether this procedure is the appropriate vehicle for this Bill, considering its substance.Although the private Bill system may be familiar to the House, it is not best suited to legislation such as this, which contains tax-raising powers. I understood that to be the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field).

Mr. Field: My point, furthermore, was that unlike the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom we give tax-raising powers for a year, the authorities in question will be given tax-raising powers for ever, unless we later decide to withdraw those powers.

Stephen Hesford: That is a point well made, and it returns me to my intervention during the speech of my right hon. Friend. I was slightly criticised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) for being almost right when I said that if tax-raising powers are given and problems arise with certain undertakings, those problems can be cured by a public Bill. Problems arising from private Bills sponsored by railway companies, which regularly came before the House in the 19th century, and local authority undertakings, have been cured over time. The House found that the procedure was so unsatisfactory—

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