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23 Oct 2002 : Column 342continued
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
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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