Court of Referees Minutes of Evidence


  CHAIRMAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The sensible arrangement would be that those who are to address us on behalf of the petitioners and promoters should be seated in what I might call the witness seats at the front here and those who are advising them or colleagues should be behind them ideally. Can I welcome you here. I am Alan Haselhurst, Chairman of Ways and Means and Chairman of the Court of Referees. We are going to use the term "Chairman" as it seems the most easy. The other members of the Court are Dennis Turner, Mrs Linda Perham and Mr Peter Atkinson. John Vaux is Speaker's Counsel and Frank Cranmer is the Clerk of the Court. We are quorate with three, so we are covered in that sense.

   We are intending to hear the three cases of the petitioners consecutively. We will hear first from Ms Hanson on behalf of the North West Regional Council TUC, then Mr Cashman on behalf of the T&GWU, the GMBU, the AEEU, UCATT and Mr William McCoy, then Mr Fleming on behalf of the Merseyside and West Cheshire Region of the Federation of Small Businesses, and finally the Agent for the Promoters, Mr Owen. May I say, I hope not unnecessarily, that as there is a considerable amount of common content to the three petitions that you will pick your way through that without unnecessary repetition. I would have thought for the expedition of proceedings you would have that in mind in any case. I need say no more other than to call upon Ms Hanson to address the Court.

  MS MARGARET HANSON: Thank you, Mr Chairman. My name is Margaret Hanson and I am the Policy and Campaigns Officer for the North West TUC. This is a body that represents just under one million working people through their affiliate unions in the North West of England, around 200,000 of whom live in the Merseyside sub­region. I was appointed as the Agent for the aforesaid organisation as per an extract of minutes of the North West Regional Council's Executive which has been forwarded to the House of Commons' authorities, that minute being taken from our meeting of 15 January 2002.

    I hope to show the Court of Referees that the North West TUC is a proper body to petition against the Private Bill presented by the Merseytravel Passenger Executive and that the objections raised to our petition by the latter body are without basis.

   Firstly, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the previous Private Bill, promoted by the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive, was contested by the North West TUC Regional Council in a petition back in 2000. No objection was made at that time to our acting as a petitioner and although the provisions of that Bill were different in some aspects, I would argue that a precedent was established as to our locus standi in this matter.

    The North West TUC was established in 1868 in order to argue on behalf of all its affiliate organisations in matters such as this. It would be impossible for all of our affiliates to appear before your Court to argue their case, but the North West TUC, as authorised per the minutes, is the appropriate association so to do.

    The objections raised to our petition by the promoters of the Bill are not factually accurate. Although this is not the forum in which to argue the merits or otherwise of the actual Bill, I hope that you will accept that our affiliates' members as individuals as well as collectively would suffer loss if this Bill were to proceed. Increasing already high tolls on an annual basis, possibly above the rate of inflation or at least by the rate of RPI inflation, would definitely injure our members' ability to travel to work and to pursue their legal trade. One must remember that they are a monopoly in the Merseyside area and many people do not have an alternative way to travel to work or to pursue their trade.

    The objection to our petition, especially in the light of the first point above, is an attempt to use parliamentary procedure to frustrate a due democratic procedure. If we are prevented from petitioning against the Bill our affiliates'members have no other forum in which to make their concerns heard. As the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive is a quango, it is extremely difficult for an ordinary person, a worker or an employer, to make their views known to the body. Despite having petitioned against the first Bill lodged by the MPTE, the North West TUC was not included in a consultation exercise that preceded the current Bill. The opportunity of airing the issues raised in our petition before the House is the only opportunity that we shall enjoy to raise our affiliates' members concerns. There are no viable alternative methods of crossing the Mersey for many of our affiliates' members. The buses, trains and ferries which currently operate are all overcrowded and the services inadequate to serve the working population of the Merseyside area.

    Sections 5 and 6 of the promoter's objections are incorrect. We have around 200,000 trades union members in the Merseyside and adjacent area. There are members in all of the large unions and you will hear from them directly shortly. But there are also many members of smaller specialist unions all of whose members will use the tunnels at some time and many of them will use them to travel to work or to pursue a trade. Investors, we believe, coming into the area will be dissuaded from investing, especially in the Wirral peninsula, if they face ever-increasing tolls to cross the Mersey and there is no reasonable alternative to the crossing except a 50­mile round detour to the already overcrowded Runcorn Bridge.

    We do not object in our petition to public policy — this is an important issue which is raised by the objectors to our petition — but we would dispute the Mersey Passenger Transport Executive's interpretation of what is public policy and, in a democracy, would argue that we have a right to point out where that policy, or that of a quango such as the MPTE, misinterprets the Government's policies, and is likely to injure the public good. We do have a right to actually make our objections.

    Section 8 of the objections to our petition is patently untrue. As per the minutes and a letter which was lodged with your officers and checked by those Officers of the House, I am a duly authorised agent and the process was carried out correctly.

  Lastly, under Standing Order 95 as set out in Erskine May, as Court of Referees I believe you do have the discretion, if you so choose, to grant to the North West TUC a locus standi in this matter. I would ask you to consider granting us this petition so as to ensure that the merits or otherwise of the proposed legislation are heard in the proper place, namely the Chamber of the House of Commons and, if the Bill passes through there, in the appropriate Committee. If the promoters of the Bill have faith in the strength of their arguments and the integrity of what they propose for the whole of the Merseyside region, I think they should be prepared to test that in the proper way and not to seek to frustrate the due democratic process by tying us up in parliamentary procedure as they are seeking to do this morning. Thank you very much.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed. Would anybody like to ask any questions of Ms Hanson?

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: I have one. Do you as the North West Region of the TUC represent any interests that are not already adequately represented by the specific unions that have already petitioned, or indeed other unions that could have petitioned but chose not to?

  MS HANSON: Yes, we have around 60 affiliated unions as part of our association, only some of whom have members who work in the tunnels. Many of the other unions are those which I have referred to as small and specialist unions who do not have the resources, either financially or in terms of staff, to be represented here today. As I referred to in my submission, the TUC was established in order to give a voice not simply to the large unions from whom you will hear directly but to those small, specialist trade associations some of whom represent hospital workers, radiographers — those very specialised professions — and they will be people who use the tunnels to get to hospitals, for example on one side of the river or across to the other, and who will not be able to be heard today or to be heard against the petition unless the petition of the North West TUC actually succeeds.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: In relation to those small and specialised unions is it your case that the cost of getting to work would be increased by the exercise of the powers in the Bill or is it that their ability to work at all might be affected by the exercise of those powers?

  MS HANSON: We will argue, should we succeed today, that the potential of the Bill is such that the scope of powers that it would give to a quango, given the monopoly status of the Mersey Tunnels and the lack of alternative of a river crossing. It is not like London. The nearest river crossing from the Mersey Tunnels is around 20 miles plus away from the centre of the city across to the conurbation of the Wirral and we would argue that the medium and long­term effects could be that, one, tunnel viability could be threatened and, two, the cost of using those tunnels will be such that people will be forced to make the detour or that prospective employers ­ we are not just talking about people working in the public sector, we are talking about the specialist trade unions who work in private sector employment — would choose (because of the added tax on jobs that these tolls would effectively represent) to invest elsewhere and therefore investment in the area will be seriously threatened and jobs could actually be lost.

  LINDA PERHAM: Can I just clarify, did you say that you were not consulted in the run­up to the Bill being presented?

  MS HANSON: On the second Bill, the one that your House will consider, despite being a petitioner duly authorised by this House to petition against the first Bill, we were not consulted and that is despite having written in the spring of last year to the MPTE asking for a meeting to discuss some of the issues and a meeting to discuss the way forward for the tunnels. At that time we did anticipate that the Mersey Passenger Transport Executive would wish to have another bite of the cherry and we wished to get into dialogue. We got a reply back to our initial letter saying "we will talk to you after the General Election". That meeting did not happen and we were not consulted. In fact, the first we knew about the issue was when it was raised with us by the affiliate unions and after I heard Members of the House on the radio saying that the Bill had been re­presented.

  LINDA PERHAM: Just a couple of other things. You are concerned about the extra tolls that could be imposed. Could they not be used to improve the Runcorn Bridge, which is a 50 mile diversion? Could that money not be used to improve that and the Birkenhead Tunnel which is another one that has been raised? Is it not something which could be used because the tunnels are not in a very good condition?

  MS HANSON: Because of the set­up of the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive it does not include the authority in whose area the Runcorn Bridge falls. The proposals within the Bill do make similar suggestions — that monies creamed off from the tunnel tolls could be invested into public transport — but if we succeed in you accepting our petition today, we would argue that public transport needs to be improved before people will move from their cars and use public transport. I do believe that is something which the Government accepts and it is the way round that you do it. They are some of the issues we would like to debate should the Bill get to the Committee.

  LINDA PERHAM: And if the other routes are a long diversion or not really suitable to be used, could it be argued that people — I am thinking in my own case of Dartford Tunnel — would have to use them anyway if the alternative is a long diversion or inadequate transport facilities?

  MS HANSON: Yes it could; and that is one of the reasons that we are concerned because the powers that this Bill would give to the MPTE would be such that the tolls would go up, and effectively it is a form of taxation upon people who have no right to consent to it or otherwise. They would be forced to pay the extra tolls.

  LINDA PERHAM: Thank you, Chairman.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: I want to be sure that I understood the answer. Did you say that all the other river crossings in the Mersey area are outside the jurisdiction of Merseytravel so that in your submission the funds generated by the tolls could not be spent on improving the other river crossings? Did I hear right?

  MS HANSON: There are two tunnels both of which are in the control of the MPTE, the Birkenhead Tunnel, and the other one is the Wallasey Tunnel. Runcorn Bridge is part of the highway system in Halton in Cheshire and the Bill does not propose to give the monies that would be raised by the powers that the Bill gives to the MPTE to anybody else other than the MPTE. It proposes to use those monies to improve certain parts of the public transport infrastructure which are not necessarily going to benefit those currently who have to use the road tunnels to get to Liverpool and to the Wirral peninsula.

  MR ATKINSON: To pursue that, when you are talking about the MPTE—?

  MS HANSON: Mersey Passenger Transport Executive.

  MR ATKINSON: Is that Merseytravel? Is that one and the same?


  MR ATKINSON: Do they not have some control over the ferries?

  MS HANSON: Yes, but the ferries are not adequate.

  MR ATKINSON: And the suburban rail service?

  MS HANSON: Yes, which is not adequate.

  MR ATKINSON: They have a connection?

  MS HANSON: They control everything and also the trains

  MR ATKINSON: Again, it is not particularly relevant to what we have to decide today, but to get a feel for it, can you give me an idea of what the tolls are at the moment?

   MS HANSON: For a return journey for a car it is £2.40, for a lorry it is just under £10 and motor cycles are free.

  CHAIRMAN: The thrust of your argument is that a power to increase tolls, which assumes that the power would be used, would be injurious in terms of cost to employees of various businesses and so on. How do you distinguish that from any other extra charges which life might bring to people through increased taxation or other causes? Life is full of increased costs which nobody likes.

  MS HANSON: The Bill would give automatic annual increases at the rate of inflation and it is the monopoly situation that causes us concern, that people do not have a viable alternative to this route. It is not like London where you do have a number of bridges in the city and you also have motorways and different tunnels that you can use. Although some of them are tolled, you do have non­toll alternatives and you can choose to use them. We do not have the option in this area. We have the two tunnels or you can use the ferries which are antiquated and which are not adequate. If you are in a car you are hide­bound. People do travel great distances to Liverpool and that is a good thing because the city needs the vibrancy that people coming in from outside bring, and therefore it helps create jobs and helps the economy of the city. We believe that the Bill would work against that and we believe there are other alternatives but we cannot argue that until we are given a locus standi in this issue to proceed.

  CHAIRMAN: This Bill has not, fairly obviously, begun its substantive parliamentary consideration. Do you not have confidence in the elected representatives being able to deploy all these arguments on your behalf and on behalf of all the people that could be affected in the course of the processes of the Bill?

  MS HANSON: Absolutely and we have been working very closely with the elected representatives who are objecting to the Bill. We believe, given the fact that it is a Private Bill and would affect a very close circle of people, although it is 200,000 of our members, that we have an added perspective to put and that we would be seen by our members to be failing in our duty to them if we did use absolutely every avenue open to us to ensure that the issues that the Bill raises are aired and are debated. The problem is that we would have liked to have had that debate outside this forum; but given the nature of the Mersey Passenger Transport Executive it is very difficult to engage with them. We wish to take the opportunity which is offered to us by procedure to actually bring to the fore the concerns of our members and our affiliates.

  CHAIRMAN: But the question I am asking is are you able to demonstrate that it is only by having your petition accepted that arguments could be put, whereas there are Members of Parliament who would have opportunity in debate to put those arguments if asked by you o r the people you represent to do so?

  MS HANSON: I believe that the contribution we could make would strengthen the debate and make the legislation, should it come out at the other end, better. Equally, given the way in which we have been treated during the consultation process, as a body the North West TUC felt that it should avail itself of the opportunity which Parliament does give to organisations such as ourselves to engage in the democratic process. We have effectively been denied the opportunity to do that in the North West, back on our home territory, by the way in which the consultation was or was not carried out. We are asking that the House grants us the opportunity to have our say which has been denied to us so far in this matter.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed, Ms Hanson. May I now ask Mr Cashman to address the Court.

  MR MICK CASHMAN: I am Michael Cashman. I am a Regional and Industrial Organiser for the Transport and General Workers' Union. I have got a direct servicing responsibility for Transport and General Workers' Union members employed at Mersey Tunnels. In addition to the 155 Transport and General Workers' Union members employed at Mersey Tunnels, I also service and represent about 3,700 other Transport and General Workers' Union members in a variety of workplaces on the Wirral and in Liverpool.

    I have been asked to act as Agent on behalf of our members of the Transport and General Workers Union, the General and Municipal Boilermakers Union, UCATT, the AEEU, and also William McCoy in respect of our petition against the Mersey Tunnels Bill. William McCoy, who signed a petition as an individual, is also the chairperson of the Joint Shop Steward Committee on Mersey Tunnels.

    The promoters of this Bill have objected to our petition on a number of grounds. In point (1) they say that the petitioners' property and interests, and the property and interests of those they represent are not directly affected by the Bill.

    Clearly, we disagree with this point. Our members' interests are specially affected by these proposals.

    Section 92 (6) of the County of Merseyside Act 1980 states that any person or body sufficiently representative of persons who have a substantial interest in the use of the tunnels has the right to object to proposed toll increases and this can result in the Minister calling a public inquiry to ensure that such increases are necessary.

    We say that our organisations are bodies as described in this section; and this Bill would deprive us of the opportunity to oppose unnecessary toll increases by providing evidence to a public inquiry in future, as toll increases could be made automatically if the Bill was passed.

    It is clear that the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority regard us as such a body because we were consulted along with other interested groups when they were proposing this Bill when they had this consultation process. The Transport and General Workers' Union and the other unions that I am representing today received invitations to give their views on the proposed Bill, so they clearly regarded us as such an organisation who should be consulted in this case.

   We deal with our concerns of the effects of toll increases in Paragraph 9 of our petition.

    The trade unions who are signatories to the petition have a substantial membership on Merseyside. Our members are employed in local businesses who will be adversely affected by unnecessary increases tolls and this could directly affect their wages and conditions of employment. Many of our members use the tunnels to travel to and from work across the Merseyside conurbation and, as I mentioned before, our unions have a substantial membership. The Transport and General Workers' Union has approximately 34,000 members on Merseyside. The AEEU also represents thousands of members across Merseyside. The GMB has approximately 30,000 members, and UCATT has approximately 5,500 members across the Merseyside conurbation.

    In addition to the effect this Bill would have on our Merseyside membership in relation to the increased tolls and the impact on the businesses they work for, our members employed at Mersey Tunnels would also be directly and specially affected by the proposal to allow Merseytravel to utilise the money raised by the Mersey Tunnels for other initiatives. This would create a tension between spending revenue on the maintenance and running costs of Mersey Tunnels and the initiatives elsewhere, for example the proposed tram link using toll money in Liverpool. This could have a direct effect on the working conditions of our members.

    Section 99(1) of the County of Merseyside Act 1980 restricts spending this revenue to paying the tunnels' debt and the running costs of the tunnels and the running costs of the tunnels include our members' employment and working conditions. So we do not accept the objection raised in point (1).

    In relation to point (2) of the objections, we do accept that we have not got any direct property interests involved.

    In point (3) I believe we have dealt with this point in addressing point (1). Clearly our members do suffer pecuniary loss or injury as a consequence of this proposal.

    In point (4) the promoters state that "No facts are adduced in the petition to support the allegation that our rights and interests are injuriously affected by the Bill." We say that this is not the case. In paragraph 9 of our petition we point out that the Bill would take away our right to give evidence to a public inquiry to object to unnecessary toll increases.

    We also refer to the economic effect on local businesses such increases would have. Our role as an organisation involves representing the interests of our members in the workplace. Anything that has an effect on the profitability and viability of local businesses adversely affects the interests of our members.

    There is also a direct effect on our members who use the tunnels for travelling to work and leisure.

    In paragraph 11 of our petition we point out that the increases do not take account of the financial, transport, social and economic consequences that would have an injurious effect on the petitioners.

    In point (5) it says the first four petitioners do not state how the trade or business of their members would be affected in the petition. We do this in paragraphs 9 and 11 of our petition.

   In point (6) the objectors raise objections on matters of public policy. Again, this is not the case. We raise objections because these proposals will have a direct and special effect on our members. Toll revenue is used to pay our members and provide safe working conditions for our members. The Bill seeks to allow this revenue to be siphoned off to be used elsewhere and this could clearly affect our members. The economic and social consequences of unnecessary toll increases would have a direct effect on our members who use the tunnels and who live in the Merseyside area.

    In point (7), the promoters say that William McCoy is represented by the six members of the Liverpool City Council of the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority under the Doctrine of Representation and so he is not entitled to be heard. We do not accept that this is the case. The Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority is not a local authority — it is a Passenger Transport Authority and Executive constituted under Section 9 of the Transport Act 1968. Its function is described in section 9(3) of the Act. Its role is to secure and promote the provision of a properly integrated and efficient system of public passenger transport. It is not there to represent the general interests of the people in the same way that a local authority is. It is false to equate a Passenger Transport Authority with a local authority. The elected members who sit on the PTA are not there to represent the general interests of the council taxpayer but to carry out the duties of a Passenger Transport Authority.

    William McCoy is a council taxpayer who will be adversely affected by this Bill and we believe that he should be heard. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons Private Business 2001 ­ Standing Order 96 allows individual petitioners to be heard in cases like this.

   Point (8) questions whether we are representing our organisations in signing the petition against this Bill. The signatories who have signed on behalf of the trade unions concerned are full­time officials of the representative unions who have direct servicing responsibility for their unions' members in Mersey Tunnels. It is clearly signed on behalf of the respective unions and of William McCoy. We opposed the previous Mersey Tunnels Bill by petition in the same way and the promoter did not challenge our right to petition in that case.

    Our members employed at Mersey Tunnels overwhelmingly voted to oppose this Bill at a mass meeting at which all Mersey Tunnels trade union members were invited to attend. We are all supported by our respective trade unions in this case. I do have, with your permission Chairman, copies of letters from regional trade unions confirming that we are authorised to act on behalf of our unions.

  CHAIRMAN: If we need them later then thank you very much.

  MR CASHMAN: I have letters from senior union officials of three of the unions supporting this. Unfortunately the AEEU letter has not arrived on time and we do not have that letter. The Transport and General Workers' Union are paying my wages and expenses in attending today. They also paid for the barrister who assisted in drawing up our petition against this Bill. All of the unions involved have assisted in organising opposition to this Bill and so we think that we are clearly acting on behalf of our organisations. To be honest, common sense says that we operate in that way. We are paid officials of the union. Our members have asked us to oppose this Bill in the same way as they asked us to oppose the previous Bill and that also was by a mass meeting of members when we agreed to oppose the first Mersey Tunnels Bill.

    All we are asking for in submitting this petition is for the right to be heard at an Opposed Bills Committee. We want to have the opportunity to give evidence as to how this Bill will adversely affect our members.

    There are three petitions in front of you today and all of the petitioners obviously represent substantial interest groups in Merseyside and the North West who will be affected by the Mersey Tunnels Bill. Our petition represents a specific group of people who have a direct interest in this matter ­ they are the employees who run the Mersey Tunnels as well as employees who work in many of the areas in the local economy.

    If any of these petitions is allowed to go forward to the Opposed Bill Committee it means there will be an Opposed Bill Committee. We would say if that is the case then our petition should be allowed because we have direct experience of running of the Mersey Tunnels and we believe our members could provide valuable evidence in respect of the proposed Bill. Thank you.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed.

  LINDA PERHAM: Mr Cashman, you talked (as did Ms Hanson) about the inadequate transport facilities existing in the area and you are both concerned about the monies being used for purposes other than on the tunnels themselves. Would you not accept that to the people who are using the tunnel it would be a good use of the money to try and improve the other public transport or would you say that had to be done generally from council tax/income tax so that everybody in the area pays towards improved transportation? Is it acceptable that people who are using the tunnels should be paying towards improved public transport?

  MR CASHMAN: My union has many members employed in the passenger transport industry. We are obviously very concerned that we have an effective and efficient public transport system on Merseyside, but it is not our view that that should be paid for by having a local tax levied on a small group of people who use Mersey Tunnels. We think that the impact of that will be that local businesses that use Mersey Tunnels that employ our members will find it difficult to pay the everincreasing costs and we do not think it is a sensible way of developing funding for the transport system. We believe that it should come out of a general fund as opposed to aiming it as a quite a small group — well, quite a large group of people but a discrete group of people that use Mersey Tunnels. In addition, our concern from the point of view of the Bill is that it will also enable Mersey Tunnels to use toll revenue; and that could affect the amount of investment that we are prepared to put into Mersey Tunnels to keep the tunnels safe for use and for our members who work in Mersey Tunnels and could also impact on the terms and conditions of our members. Obviously if there are financial pressures elsewhere and money is taken out to fund other programmes that is money not being spent on Mersey Tunnels' running costs.

  LINDA PERHAM: You said a small group and then you said a large group.

  MR CASHMAN: It is a large group.

  LINDA PERHAM: What is the usage, the statistics of how many people use the tunnels and the vehicles?

  MR CASHMAN: 30 million trips a year. Our members anecdotally have said they believe the revenue is roughly a quarter of a million a week on Mersey Tunnels, but 30 million trips a year is the number.

  LINDA PERHAM: Thank you, Chairman.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: I wanted to ask a question about Mr McCoy and clarify the basis on which he is a petitioner. Is he a petitioner simply as a representative inhabitant of the area or is it your argument that his use of the tunnels in some way sets him apart from other inhabitants of the area? Is he a frequent user of the tunnels?

  MR CASHMAN: He is an employee of the Tunnels. He is a user of the tunnels and he lives in the Merseyside area in Liverpool and would be affected by these increased costs. He is signing as an individual who would be affected and we believe individuals who are directly affected in this sort of case should have an opportunity to give evidence in respect to this Bill.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: So you are relying on Standing Order 96 as well as on 95. Is that right, he is an inhabitant of the area?


  CHAIRMAN: Are we not, in fact, getting down to what might be an age­old argument about whether or not it is users or people in general who should pay? Is that not just a matter of general public policy?

  MR CASHMAN: Sir, my view is that it is not just a matter of public policy because there are specific interests of tunnel users involved and certainly in terms of our petition our members are specifically involved in the increasing tolls; and whether that should be used to fund other transport initiatives is not just a matter of public policy.

  CHAIRMAN: No, but if the tolls were to remain at their present level in perpetuity or to cease and at the same time it was the desire of people in the affected area to see improvements in public transport or maintenance, there might have to be imposts through taxation which would be every bit as disagreeable to your members as to anyone else.

  MR CASHMAN: Possibly, Sir, but all we are asking for in respect of this Bill is for the opportunity to give our evidence in respect to our objections to the Bill. Merseytravel has chosen to use the course of a Private Bill to make these changes. We are just asking for an opportunity under the same legislation, if you will, to give our evidence as to why the changes should not be made.

  CHAIRMAN: To come back to a point I put to Ms Hanson, if we were not doing this through the Private Bill procedure and it was a Public Bill, then your avenue would be through your elected representatives in Parliament?

  MR CASHMAN: That would be the case, Sir, but our view is that there is an opportunity for our members to give evidence in respect of this Bill, a Bill that will directly affect our members. One of the effects of this Bill will be to take away the right of people to be consulted in future in respect of toll increases. At the moment if Merseytravel wishes to increase the tunnel tolls and there are groups who object, then a public inquiry process has to be gone through and it gives people the opportunity to give evidence for and against the issue. The effect of this Private Bill will be to take away that right, so it is even more important that those groups that are affected are given the opportunity at an Opposed Bill Committee to give their evidence before this right is finally taken away from them.

  MR DENNIS TURNER: Could I ask a further question about Mr McCoy. You say that he is a general elector of Liverpool. Did I understand it to be said that he was also a member of the Passenger Transport Authority?

  MR CASHMAN: He is an employee of Mersey Tunnels.

  MR TURNER: But not a member of the Passenger Transport Executive?


  MR ATKINSON: If he is employed by the Tunnel then he presumably does not pay tolls when he uses it?

  MR CASHMAN: I do not think he does, Sir, no. Again, I am saying this. I think they get vouchers for so many trips. When the vouchers run out then they have to pay.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed, Mr Cashman. Now Mr Fleming on behalf of the Merseyside and West Cheshire Region of the Federation of Small Businesses.

  MR PHILIP FLEMING: Mr Chairman, members of the Court, my name is Phillip Fleming. I am the Regional Chairman of the Merseyside and West Cheshire Federation of Small Businesses. I would like to concentrate on Section 95, our main area of concern, and on the fact that we would hope that you would grant us through your discretionary powers on under Section 95 the right to put forward our petition.

    First of all, the Federation of Small Businesses, for those who do not know, was formed in 1994. Nationally we currently have a membership of 170,000. In terms of statistics that gives FSB more members than the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties together, so that gives you some idea of the sphere of influence. If you couple to that the fact that 92 per cent of businesses in this country employ less than nine people, you will see FSB as a national organisation which was possibly very little heard of five or six years ago but which has grown in strength and stature. We are coming down to a regional level. In terms of the national structure we go back then through regions and branches. Basically the region comprises about six branches. The Merseyside and West Cheshire area geographically encompasses the area of Merseytravel so to that extent our geographic location as well as our economic location is concentrated. We have 6,000 members in our region. On that basis we feel as though we do represent a lot of businesses. As I say, the 6,000 members that we have there, if you multiply it out, we act for quite a lot of members.

  CHAIRMAN: May I just interrupt you. There are 6,000 in the affected region?

  MR FLEMING: We have 6,000 members in the Merseyside region as opposed to 170,000 nationally. Those are pretty active members. The Federation of Small Businesses is an organisation that is there to look after the rights of the self­employed and people that direct small businesses. It is membership-led. People like myself are not paid employees. I am here as a businessman in my own right. I am not paid by anybody to come here. My job is as an activist and the FSB has built its reputation up on people like myself being active within an area and having the local knowledge. We work quite a lot with politicians, hopefully bringing grass­roots levels of influence to bear into subject matters like this. We are an apolitical organisation. All we are looking for is a level playing field. This is one of the main reasons we have got involved in this particular Mersey Tunnels Bill.

     We were also not consulted on this particular consultation document. We find it quite surprising. We do attend various meetings with Merseytravel. Whether it was an oversight or not, we were not consulted. We sat back and did not take the lead and waited until our members started complaining about this procedure. From then onwards I was nominated to take up the role on behalf of our members and we have gone to town to the extent of producing a petition that has full backing. There are objections obviously from the promoters. They said we have not got the authority. These have all been produced at the time to the Private Bills Office, so I do feel we have the authority on these matters. To that extent I feel as though I am here as a duly elected representative of the Federation of Small Businesses and we do have the right under Section 95. We have an arguable case that our members will be injured as a result of this Bill.

    Going on to that, our objections are quite clearly stated in the petition. The promoters seem to think that they are not, but as an overview I am here as a Mersysider. This particular Bill from Merseytravel seems to have polarised the Wirral. I am here to give you a little bit of local knowledge and hopefully answer questions from yourselves. Merseyside is unique in terms that Liverpool, Birkenhead and the Wirral, if you do not know the area, are virtually conjoined. The economic viability of one is very much mutually dependent on the others. I feel that this Bill seeks to polarise that situation. I want to enhance Merseyside. I am not here to object to a Bill because I am objecting to a ten pence rise in a tunnel toll. There are far greater economic issues at stake. I feel that because of the procedure and the consultation we were not given the proper opportunity at that level to argue our point. Indeed, the consultation process was ignored anyway. The vast majority of people were against it but it went on. So we have this situation here, and yes, we are going through a petition to try and put our side of story. I would agree that it is a Private Bill. If it was not a Private Bill and this had been in somebody's manifesto in an Election obviously we would have gone through a different procedure. I feel the way Merseytravel have carried out the consultation procedure totally ignored the views of our members. It seems they have ignored the views of the TUC. We feel we have the right to ask for your support to have locus standi on this issue. If there are any points you would like from my side, it might be easier to answer any points in that way.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Mr Atkinson?

  MR ATKINSON: Are the 6,000 members that you have 6,000 individual businesses or do you have several members in one business?

  MR FLEMING: No, basically we will have 6,000 members and those members would employ one to nine people.

  MR ATKINSON: Each member would therefore represent a business so we are talking about 6,000 businesses?

  MR FLEMING: Correct, we are talking about 6,000 businesses.

  MR ATKINSON: That is in what you might term the Merseytravel area?

  MR FLEMING: Our geographic limits are very similar to the Merseytravel area. It is an area that encompasses Liverpool and the Wirral.

  MR ATKINSON: I think that somewhere like Southport, for instance, might be in that area.

  MR FLEMING: Just on the boundary.

  MR ATKINSON: Quite a lot of your 6,000 members would not be affected in any way. If one had a newsagent's business in Southport, the fact that the tolls went up would be of no relevance?

  MR FLEMING: I would agree. You have to adopt an accountancy audit viewpoint on this. We represent 6,000 members. If you look at the political parties, the Conservative Party only has so many thousand members but they are activists, these are the people who have taken the trouble to join an organisation.

  MR ATKINSON: The point I am trying to get at is we are talking about locus standi here, and some of your members would be self­employed painters and decorators who would regularly travel through the tunnels and therefore this would have a substantial impact on their business but an awful lot of your 6,000 members would have absolutely no interest in the tunnels at all because they or their customers would not travel through it. We are talking not about 6,000 members but a lot fewer.

  MR FLEMING: As far as I am concerned you must take this audit viewpoint. We have 6,000 members. In terms of feed-back, it is the like the viewing figures for TV, they know 15 million people watch it but they do not ask 15 million people. All we know is the number of people raising objections to this and that objections are raised even more when they got into the difference between this consultation practice and the Bill.

  MR ATKINSON: I do understand that. What I am trying to get at is a better idea of how many of your members would be affected. I gave the example of somebody like a self­employed painter and decorator who drives through the tunnel but I do not see how a newsagent's business on the Wirral would be affected by this. Perhaps you could explain.

  MR FLEMING: It is very difficult to pick up on your point. Maybe I can give another example. I am concerned at the overall knock­on effect on the economy. We have the largest employer in the Wirral that, literally, if we were granted the opportunity of our petition, we would bring this person along who will state that virtually for the flip of a coin 3,000 jobs would have been lost in the Wirral last year because an American conglomerate was looking at closing a factory in the Wirral or a factory in Scotland. These guys sat there in the States looking at numbers, that is all these guys do, and they were saying, "Gee, this factory is okay but why are the transport costs so high?" It went down to the wire. It was only through the intervention of Members of Parliament that the factory was saved in the Wirral. These are the impacts. It is not the guy that is going through the tunnel, it is a far wider issue. This is the biggest employer and the Wirral could least afford to lose business, never mind we are trying to create inward investment into the Wirral and Merseyside. At the moment Liverpool is on a little bit of a rise with a major investment on the waterfront. We would like to see this continue across the other side of the water and we feel this particular Bill is not the way forward. I would be there at the front of the queue to try and sort out a really good way forward to bring forth an end to some of the inefficiencies on the tunnel but I do not think this Bill is the right way. That is the major objection.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mrs Perham?

  LINDA PERHAM: You say in your evidence, Paragraph 13, there is "increasing evidence" becoming available to show that the high cost of transport to other parts of Merseyside is discouraging businesses from setting up or relocating to the Wirral. You have just mentioned this particular factory in the Wirral. If you are allowed to proceed will you be able to present further evidence on that matter? It is very easy to say "increasing evidence".

  MR FLEMING: It is a very hard thing to show that somebody has not done something but there are instances where people come through to me in my position. They want advice over setting up businesses, etcetera. I had one instance where two chaps left the Army and wanted to set up a business. I met them, showed them round the area, tried to get them to locate in the Wirral, and they were looked after very very well. The one stumbling block was "we are a warehousing company", and they went to another area north of the river because they could not afford the tunnel costs and the thought of them being increased was an absolute discouragement to them. It is a unique situation. It is a total monopoly at the moment. The tunnel is an artificial barrier that should not be there. It is five miles of roads. There are two tunnels. When we are talking about the tunnel we are talking about two tunnels. The total milage is five miles but this is an economic barrier to the area. It is something I would like to see go away. I have felt for many years that the Tunnels should be part of the national road system. We might not ever get there and in fact there is a need for some form of control in the traffic. I would love to try and be part of a scheme that would make the place more efficient. This Bill will literately put under the table any rights of any of the businesses to bring it forward or air it again. This is my major objection because it is not right.

  LINDA PERHAM: You are the Federation of Small Businesses. Obviously you are the only one that is petitioning. Are there other businesses or organisations like the Chamber of Commerce who, for whatever reason, are not petitioning?

  MR FLEMING: Yes, it is one of those reasons that I think if you check with everybody all of these organisations are against it but literally I put my hand up and I said I will at least try and carry the cudgel. We understand that this is not the normal thing for people like yourself and we are taking you away from your jobs as well. To have the Chambers of Commerce and the Forum for Small Business, everybody, putting a petition in was not the right way forward. I cannot speak on behalf of the other people. I have made the effort to come forward here and I am grateful for the opportunity to be here. If you follow all the press cuttings there is a general consensus on Merseyside from the general public, business organisations, academics who are all against this Bill.

  LINDA PERHAM: You said opinion was polarised in this area. We know there are people in favour of the Bill or it would not be coming forward. You are saying in general the feeling amongst businesses is that it would be disadvantageous and general business in the area would suffer if this Bill were to go forward?

  MR FLEMING: Yes, because this Bill in its entirety will throw open all manner of things that Mersey travel can do. They have gone from the original consultation document where it was really, "Unless we can find a fast track way of raising money, we are all going to be in trouble", and it was scaremongering tactics to help them through with this. "We only want to put things up in line with inflation, let's just get this Bill through." Suddenly we have gone from a situation where local councillors were scared stiff into agreeing with this because part of the consultation said, "Everything is all right now, but if things go a slightly different way, we are going to have to ask you to put your hands in your pockets", the councils ran scared and suddenly we go to a Bill where, "Never mind covering costs, chaps, what are we going to do with all the excess profit we are going to make?" The fact that excess funds have been used for two holes in the ground is not acceptable either. As far as I am concerned our tunnels are a fact of life but they should be made as efficient and as cost-effective as possible and not be used as a cash cow to service any other ways.

    I firmly believe it is against the EU Directives. It is in the petition. This is not the opportunity to bring it up; but I go back to my whole point that when I looked originally into this Bill that they want to put prices up in line with inflation. That sounds very good but what you have to remember is that the normal rate of RPI index is based on a basket of products which are basically products such as food, fuel, etcetera. If that works out as an annual rate of inflation of five per cent that does not apply to the Mersey Tunnel or public utilities because they do not eat food and they do not use fuel. Basically, in a nutshell, they encapsulate the fact that Merseytravel are not just trying to balance the books, as it were. They knew by this RPI index, which on the face of it sounds quite viable, they were going to create cash. To me that was not exactly telling the truth. Again it is one of the reasons why I am here objecting to the Bill as it stands.

  LINDA PERHAM: Thank you, Chairman.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: I may be repeating ground that has already been covered. I appreciate that the Mersey area is an economic entity divided by a river and getting across the river is obviously important in the area, but I have not quite got to the bottom of how the cost of crossing the river through the tunnel — which someone said was £2.40 for a return journey for a car and £10 for a lorry — has an impact on the costs of a typical member of your Federation. To what extent are small businesses constantly sending lorries backwards and forwards across the tunnel in the Mersey area? You are not coming here saying, "Here is a business that will lose ten per cent of its turnover. I can show you it will lose ten per cent of its turnover if this Bill goes through." You are saying that there is a complex economy in the Mersey area and there are adverse consequences on that complex economy if the Bill goes through and our members will suffer. Can you be a bit more particular about it?

  MR FLEMING: It comes back to a basic economic viewpoint. We look at the European Common Market and we are looking for this level playing field. The people in Merseyside have not got a level playing field. If you look at the rates of pay for the self­employed they are lower than the national average so you have got some small business guys trying to earn a living. If he has to go through the tunnel — one return trip a day — that is £600 and £600 a year at present rates. We are looking at some system that could increase that amount of money and it is an awful lot of net disposable income on a small businessman. At that particular level, if you want to home in on that level, it will materially affect these small members of the community.

    The other thing about the proposed tax in London is at least there is some sense in that it will be a tax for the day. In Liverpool a small businessman might want to ply his trade going backwards and forwards between Birkenhead and Liverpool. He does not get a day pass. Every time he goes through it is an extra charge. These are the areas I would have loved to have got to grips with Merseytravel to try to improve some of the facilities. I believe this particular Bill, if it goes forward ,will put everything under the carpet and say here is a pricing structure in place and that is it. We need better ways of pricing the tunnels, better economies to be brought in and I feel we will lose the opportunity if this Bill goes forward in its present form.

  CHAIRMAN: But might not your complaint really be a generic complaint that businesses, depending where they are, might have all sort of ways in which they might have impositions to their costs. I know the area of which we speak pretty well and the whole region in fact; and companies which happen to be indigenous to the West Cumbrian coast have a penalty because they have got to travel a certain distance in difficult conditions to get anywhere and to communicate with any of their business partners. That is a fact of life. The fact that Merseyside is divided by a river which requires a tunnel of which one of the means of financing it is a toll. Is that not a similar fact of life?

  MR FLEMING: It is a similar fact of life but if we have the ability to improve that situation we should surely take that.

  CHAIRMAN: Arguably that is what Merseytravel is seeking to do, albeit in a way that you do not like. The arguments are about which way it should be done. As I think I heard in some of the arguments we have already heard, it is a question of fairness as to whether it is done one way or whether it is done another.

  MR FLEMING: Again I cannot accept that interpretation because Merseyside is unique. It has received Objective 1 funding from Europe on two occasions. I firmly believe that the money will be ill­spent as it was last time. To me we would be far better redirecting that money. I would have loved to have had some of that money to write off part of this debt on the Mersey Tunnel. Then we could have at least had some improvements. The problem with the pricing of the Mersey Tunnel at the moment is that it is literally 30 million journeys, say at an average of £1, it is £30 million and the one has got to equate to the other. This is because we have £114 million worth of debt, etcetera, that I do think should be written off somewhere. We have got £680 million coming from Objective 1 funding. I would like to have seen that go into somewhere we can help. I would have liked to have been part of some system where we could try obtaining money to give the Mersey Tunnels' finances some more stability so that it could engage itself in better pricing policies which would help an integrated transport system within Merseyside. All I am saying is with this Bill going through we would lose the opportunity to do that again. I do not accept the fact that the Mersey is there and we have got to put up with it. Again I come back to the fact I think it should be part of the national road system. Why should the people of Merseyside have to pay for the five miles of road because of the fact that it runs under a river?

  CHAIRMAN: But is lack of consultation really sufficient argument to persuade us that you should have a locus within the terms of the Private Bill procedure? There is many an occasion when a lack of consultation can be shown. I understand that the Government is eyeing up a part of Merseyside for a possible asylum removal centre which I am led to believe is scaring business away like mad. There is no consultation about that. Are you saying because we are not consulted therefore that is a reason for gaining locus?

  MR FLEMING: No, I am saying that I think I have better ideas than are on the table at the moment. The previous Mersey Tunnel Bill of 12 months ago had a bit more merit to it. This one to me has no merit to it whatsoever.

  CHAIRMAN: Taking up Mrs Perham's point, it is interesting is that we have the TUC, we have four unions and we even have an individual, yet we do not have the CBI, we do not have the Chamber of Commerce, or any other business organisation or even an individual business on a par with Mr McCoy as an individual citizen seeking to petition. Is that not interesting?

  MR FLEMING: It is interesting. It probably answers the question why the FSB is probably the leading organisation now for the self­employed. If there are 20 people behind me all well and good; but I cannot be criticised for being here. As far as I am aware I sufficiently represent trade and business.

  CHAIRMAN: Certainly I am not faulting your own determination and it is absolutely right that you should do that, but it is surely an indicator if we have, as I say, the broad union representative body, four unions themselves and even an individual, and the business case that your admirable organisation represents, but no one else has thought to petition?

  MR FLEMING: The people locally have said, "We know the FSB is doing it, we know the TUC is doing it, we will sit back." I have been in communication with local Chambers of Commerce. They are in agreement with what we are doing but they have not bothered to petition. Again it would have been very difficult because of the process to do a conjoined petition. The promoters are querying whether I have an authority. I have kept authority at regional level because it was easier to do it like that. I could have gone to the national organisation to obtain the consensus of members but I dealt with it at regional level. It is a complicated process that we are going through. A lot of the other organisations have just sat back and said there are other people there doing it, that should be sufficient.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed. We now come to the Agent for the promoters, Mr Owen.

  MR ROBERT OWEN: Chairman, good morning and good morning to members of the Court. My name is Robert Owen and I am a Parliamentary Agent and a solicitor with my firm Bircham Dyson Bell acting of course for Merseytravel.

    If I could ask for a very small bundle I have had prepared to be handed round. I can assure you that it is less formidable than it looks. I think it will help the Court with the various issues I would like to focus on and it contains extracts from previous decisions of the Court of Referees.

  MR ATKINSON: I just want to raise a point. This is quite a large document and we have not had any time to read it. It would have been helpful if we could have had this with our papers before so we could have absorbed it before.

  MR OWEN: The points I wish to make can be made quite briefly with reference to it. I did enquire of the House Authorities before today and it was suggested that it would not be appropriate to produce anything in advance. I am merely doing what has been done in the past. The bundle contains an outline of the issues that I would like to cover and many extracts from Erskine May but I am very happy to proceed without it.

  CHAIRMAN: I think I would prefer if you proceeded without it. I declined the opportunity to take other documentation from one of the other petitioners, so I would rather put this to one side and you speak as they did individually directly to the Court.

  MR OWEN: Sir, if I could start by way of introduction to just mention that of course the role of the Court of Referees and the rules relating to locus standi as they had developed were considered in a modern context by the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure which reported back in 1987­88. That Committee considered it a fundamental principle of Private Bill legislation procedure that only parties that were specially and directly affected by Private Bills should be heard and the Committee recommended that promoters should be encouraged to police the rules of locus standi. We are here today, Chairman, in the spirit set by the Joint Committee. The guiding principle of locus standi is that petitioners only specially and directly affected may be heard against Bills. The former Member Geoffrey Lofthouse MP, reiterated that point in virtually the last words of the last hearing of this court, when he said that: "the rules of locus standi require a petitioner to show that they are directly affected in a manner which is distinct from the public at large."

   By way of introduction, Merseytravel is, in fact — and this may help the Court ­ the operating name for the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority and the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive. This Bill is being promoted by the authority being the public body that is comprised of 18 members nominated by the five constituent Merseyside councils, namely Liverpool City Council, Wirral Council, Sefton Council, St Helens and Knowsley.

    In terms of the background to the Bill, reference has been made this morning to the earlier Private Bill promoted by Merseytravel two years ago and it is a fact, Chairman, that this Bill is materially different from that Bill in one respect, which is that whilst the former Bill sought provisions relating to tolls which are virtually identical to the current Bill, it also went on to seek a number of powers in relation to the future operation and maintenance of the tunnels being transferred to a concessionaire. Merseytravel has thought again about that second element and has publicly said that it wishes the tunnels to remain in public ownership and day­to­day control. Certainly the first half of that former Bill is virtually identical to this current Bill so it is not correct to say, as I think has been said this morning, that the tolling provisions of the first Bill were different and better in some way.

   Without wanting to labour the merits of the Bill because, although that would be tempting, I understand, of course, that it is not the purpose of today's proceedings, I would like for a minute or two to give you some background which will help you to understand the purpose of this Bill. The volume of traffic using the Mersey Tunnels has grown steadily over the last 30 years despite regular toll rises and it has now reached 90 per cent of the lane and exit road capacity at peak times on week days. Queuing is a growing problem at these times despite the tidal operation of lanes in the morning rush hour. Many tunnel users have to travel at peak times and yet surveys show that 25 per cent of those tunnel users could switch to public transport. After suffering substantial operating losses and escalating debt for 25 years, the tunnels' finances have been stable now for a decade. Current toll levels — which I can confirm are £1.20, £2.40, £3.60 and £4.80 for cars up to heavy goods vehicles — were fixed in 1999 and they continue to produce sufficient toll income to meet annual operating and refurbishing costs and capital financing and debt charges. Currently debt stands at £120 million or so and that is gradually being repaid. It will not be totally repaid until approximately the year 2035. Tolls, however, may have to increase in due course to pay for inflation on operating costs and continued refurbishment of the tunnels for health and safety purposes. As the tunnels get older and health and safety requirements become more and more stringent, the cost of maintenance will increase and the increasing usage of the tunnels will mean that maintenance work will have to be done at unsociable hours which of course has an added cost to it. Nevertheless, the current toll increase procedure involves a public inquiry and can take two years to conclude. Operating losses in the meantime have to be met by local council taxpayers even though the tunnels are only used by three per cent of Merseyside's population. That is precisely what happened between 1988 and 1992 when the total operating losses of £28 million had to be financed by the local councils.

    Merseytravel is seeking powers to allow tolls to rise in line with inflation. This will mean an increase of ten pence on the car toll every three years or an extra pound a week for most motorists if inflation continues at two per cent a year. Merseytravel believes that toll rises of this nature will help to manage traffic growth, avoiding further congestion and pollution and provide more than sufficient income for the tunnels' needs. Merseytravel wants to replace the requirement to reduce the tolls once the tunnels are debt free, which is a current provision in the legislation, with a provision to allow surplus toll income to be used to improve local public transport services and Merseytravel believes that is in line generally with Government policy on road congestion charging. It is felt that modest toll rises will help to manage the growing tunnel traffic and obviously provide finance to help improve local public transport services.

    I mentioned earlier that surveys suggested that up to a quarter of the tunnels' users could switch to public transport and Merseytravel believes that this Bill will encourage that switch helping the local environment and helping to protect local council taxpayers.

  CHAIRMAN: Mr Owen, you acknowledged the fact that we are not meant to be talking about merits. You now seem to have been talking about them for quite some time. This is about locus standi.

  MR OWEN: I appreciate that. I thought that in view of what we have heard this morning it might be of some assistance. Finally, in terms of figures, sir, I can confirm that 25 million vehicles use the tunnels a year, which equates to 40,000 people regularly using them a week, which is 80,000 movements a day. Those are the current figures — 80,000 vehicle movements a day from 40,000 regular users.

   Chairman, I am not sure if you wish me to address the question of consultation. I could do. There has been extensive consultation on the Bill including with unions particularly and extensive efforts were made following the General Election last year to involve the tunnels' unions and that offer, that olive branch, was rebuffed, as we would see it. The consultation was, in our view, thorough. It was a three­month consultation exercise carried out in accordance with Cabinet Office guidelines, and the resulting Bill that was promoted was unanimously supported by the Passenger Transport Authority, Merseytravel, and was also supported by its five constituent district councils. We simply do not accept there has been inadequate consultation. We feel that the consultation undertaken was very thorough indeed. One is often accused of consulting poorly but we feel in this case Merseytravel that bent over backwards to consult adequately.

   Could I clarify the other factual matter in terms of river crossings. Within Merseytravel's area there are public transport crossings, the Mersey ferries and also the Mersey rail network which has tunnels under the river connecting the Wirral with Liverpool City Council's area. Those are both within the management of Merseytravel and of course a key purpose of the Bill is to use tunnel tolls to improve public transport in Merseyside, including to improve the Mersey rail services and the Mersey ferries.

     Sir, in terms of the petitions I would like to take the Regional Office of the North West TUC, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Tunnels' unions first, because the rules relating to the locus standi of individuals are rather different and it might be appropriate for me turn to Mr McCoy in a while.

    Standing Order 95(1), which has been referred to, provides that "where any society or association, sufficiently"— and I stress that word — "representing any trade, business, or interest in a district to which any bill relates, petition against the Bill, alleging that such trade, business, or interest will be injuriously affected by the provisions contained therein ..." then it is competent to the Court of Referees to award a locus if it so wishes.

    That Standing Order sets a three­part test which I would like to go through. It requires the petitioner first of all to demonstrate that the petitioner sufficiently represents a trade, business, or interest in the district to which the Bill relates. Secondly, it requires the petitioner to allege in the petition that those it represents will be injuriously affected by the provisions of the Bill and, thirdly, it requires the petitioner to prove that those it represents will be injuriously affected.

    Dealing with the first point, whilst we do not raise any objection against the individual tunnels' unions under this head, on the point of whether they are sufficiently representative of a trade, business or interest, we do submit that umbrella groups such as the Federation of Small Business and the North West TUC cannot be said to represent any particular trade or business. Our understanding is that the Federation is a lobbying organisation for small and medium sized business and thus purports to represent those businesses in general rather than a particular trade or business. In fact, I see from the Federation's web site that the Merseyside and West Cheshire region, which is the region in whose name the petition has been lodged, covers the geographical area of Southport in the north to the border of Shropshire, and from the Wirral in the west to the border of Greater Manchester in the east. This is a significantly wider area than Merseytravel covers which is confined to Merseyside. It is that region which has 5,550 members and is divided into six branches one of which is the Wirral branch, which has a current membership of 1,162.

    Similarly, the North West TUC states at paragraph 7 in its own petition that it is an organisation representing the interests of approximately 200,000 trades union members in Merseyside but the same point applies. The North West TUC represents trades unionists in general rather than a particular trade or business. Its membership comprises affiliated unions rather than individuals. This distinction between organisations that represent a specific trade or business and those that represent a trade or business in general is well established and has long been recognised by the Court.

   The second test is a requirement to allege in the petition that those whom the petitioners represent will be injuriously affected. Each petition states that "Your petitioners and their rights and interests are injuriously affected by this Bill to which your petitioners object for reasons, amongst others, hereinafter appearing." They go on to state that these consequences that they refer to will have an injurious effect upon your petitioners. The allegation is that the rights and interests of petitioners as corporate entities will be injuriously affected but at no point in the petitions is it alleged that the members of petitioners, let alone their trades or businesses, might be affected. No allegations are made to the effect that any members practising any individual trade, for example tunnel workers or engineering workers, will be specially and directly affected by the Bill. It is noteworthy that Standing Order 95 does not entitle a representative organisation to petition on its own behalf, only on behalf of the trade, business or interest of the members that it represents. It is also a well­established principle that locus standi is limited to points made in the petition and although today we have heard arguments that members of the petitioners will be injuriously affected that is not something that is in the petitions.

    I recognise that those first two points are slightly technical but the third point is even more important, in our submission, which is proof of the allegation that members of the unions and the Federation are specially and directly affected, which of course is the fundamental principle of locus standi. If we therefore assume, or if the Court is inclined to read the petitions as if they did allege that the membership of the petitioning organisations is affected, then those petitions must still provide grounds for believing that the trades, businesses or interests of individuals will be injuriously affected. Chairman, your Court has consistently ruled that in order to be granted a locus petitioners must be affected to a greater extent than an ordinary member of the public, and I referred to the words of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse earlier.

    Equally, if the Court accepts the promoter's argument that the petitioning bodies themselves have not alleged that their members' trades, businesses or interests are injuriously affected by the Bill, then the petitioning bodies themselves need to demonstrate that they themselves are affected to a greater extent than the general public. It is our submission that this Bill will affect neither the members of petitioning bodies nor those bodies themselves any more or any less than any other tunnel user. That is the key point. That is admitted in the petitions themselves. Paragraph 13 of the TUC and Federation petitions and paragraph 11 of the other petition state that "the said proposed change to the 1980 Act is wholly undesirable, and prejudices the interests of all tunnel users, and those living and working in the surrounding area ..."

    Mr Cashman earlier constructed an argument that because of the tension between the continued maintenance of the tunnels and using surplus toll income for public transport purposes, the Bill would create an effect on his members. There are a number of points in answer to that but just briefly, of course Merseytravel would remain, whatever happens to this Bill, under an obligation to maintain the tunnels and any effect that Mr Cashman tries to make out (apart from being most unlikely to happen bearing in mind the constraints under which Merseytravel will be operating) will be a very indirect effect and we would invite the Court to dismiss that argument. An additional point of course is that that argument is not in Mr Cashman's petition and that is an argument that he raises purely today. We say that in itself means it should not be taken into account.

    The final point I would like to raise in relation to the Federation and Unions' petitions is that we say that they are really objecting to the Bill not because they or their members are directly and specially affected by it, but they are objecting on public policy grounds, as has been discussed earlier today. The requirement for petitioners to prove that the Bill specially and directly affects them is an important safeguard which has long been applied by the Court to prevent Parliament's role from being usurped. It is our case that it is for Parliament not petitioners to determine whether or not a Bill is in the public interest. The Court has regularly refused locus standi to groups or individuals petitioning on the grounds of public policy. In summary, in relation to the Unions' petitions and the TUC's and the Federation of Small Businesses' petition, we say five things, Chairman.

    First, neither the North West TUC nor the Federation is an organisation which represents a trade or business. Secondly, none of the petitioners alleges in their petition that the trade, business or interests of their members is or will be injuriously affected. Thirdly, even if they had made that allegation, we say that the trade, business and interests of the members of the petitioning organisations are not affected any more or any less than any other user of the tunnels. Equally, fourthly, we say the interests of the petitioners themselves are not so affected. Fifthly, we say that objections to the Bill on grounds of public policy do not entitle the petitioners to be heard on their petition. We submit that each one of those objections on its own is enough for the Court to refuse to grant locus standi to the petitioners.

    Before I turn to Mr William McCoy, I can say that we do not propose to take any further the point about signatories and resolutions. We had not been given copies of those before the notices of objection had to be lodged and therefore we were not in a position to know what resolutions were or were not authorised. We are very happy not to take that point further, Chairman.

    If I can turn finally to the locus standi of Mr McCoy, because being an individual the rules are a little different. We are told in the joint petition of the Tunnels' Unions that he is a resident of Liverpool, a maintenance worker in the tunnels, an active trades unionist, and a user of the tunnels. We believe for him to establish locus standi he has to demonstrate that he personally is specially and directly affected by the Bill or, secondly, he is entitled to locus under Standing Order 96.

    I would like to take the first point first. Mr McCoy himself makes no claim whatever in his petition that he is specially and directly affected by the Bill. As with the unions we say there is no more effect on him than any other user of the tunnels and, as the Court has frequently made clear in the past, an individual who is unable to demonstrate an interest in the Bill which is distinct from the interest of the general public has no locus standi.

    The second point deals with Standing Order 96. That provides that a petitioner can be awarded locus if he is the local authority of any area the whole or any part of which is alleged in the petition to be injuriously affected by the Bill, or if he is one of the inhabitants of any such area. Despite the fairly clear words of Standing Order 96 a long line of decisions of this Court has made it quite clear that for an individual to obtain locus under this Standing Order he must be representative of a substantial body of residents.

    In paragraph 11 of the petition Mr McCoy makes the allegation that increasing tunnel tolls in line with inflation prejudices the interests of all tunnel users and those living and working in the surrounding area. Even he does not allege he is petitioning as a representative of local residents, let alone that he represents a substantial proportion of them.

   The final point in relation to Mr McCoy is that it is well­established that under something known as the "doctrine of representation" an elector may not be heard against a Bill that is promoted by a corporation or an authority to which he pays a charge. There is a long line of decisions by the Court to this effect and, furthermore, the doctrine extends to cases where the petitioner pays a charge to a constituent authority which nominates members of a joint authority such as Merseytravel. Mr McCoy states in paragraph 5 of his petition that he is a resident of 4 Manica Crescent, Liverpool, L10, which is situated in the area of the authority. Applying the doctrine of representation to Mr McCoy, he is liable for council tax levied by Liverpool City Council, one of the five local authorities which elects members to serve on the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority and that authority, as I remarked earlier, is the promoter of this Bill. Applying the doctrine, we submit it is quite clear that Mr McCoy is not entitled to be heard against this Bill.

   The summary of our objections to Mr McCoy is three­fold. First of all, we say he is not affected by the Bill any more or any less than any other user of the tunnel. Secondly, he does not allege that he is representative of a large body of residents nor does he represent such a body of residents. And, thirdly, Mr McCoy is represented by Merseytravel indirectly and in accordance with the doctrine of representation may not be heard against Merseytravel. As with the Unions and the Federation, we submit that any one of these three objections, if sustained, is sufficient for the Court to refuse to grant locus standi to Mr McCoy.

   In summary, Mr Chairman and other members of the Court, our conclusion is that none of the petitioners is, putting it broadly, specially or directly affected by the Bill, therefore none of them passes the test which has been established for many many years and on that basis we would invite the Court to disallow locus standi in all three cases. If there is anything else I can help you with I am happy to.

  CHAIRMAN: We may ask questions. Thank you. Mrs Perham?

  LINDA PERHAM: Just a point of the clarification, Mr Owen. You did say that only three per of the population used the tunnel. What population are you talking about?

  MR OWEN: Three per cent of the population of Merseyside, which is comprised of five districts, Liverpool, Wirral, Sefton, St Helens and Knowsley.

  LINDA PERHAM: What about the other 97 per cent?

  MR OWEN: Sorry, if it was unclear. What I had intended to say was that three per cent of the population of Merseyside use the tunnels.

  LINDA PERHAM: Of Merseyside?

  MR OWEN: Which is the 40,000 regular users.

  LINDA PERHAM: Presumably the others are people connected with businesses or travelling from outside the area and into the area that is not covered by Merseytravel?

  MR OWEN: A proportion of the 40,000 regular users come from outside Merseyside. I am not entirely sure without checking what the precise proportion is. Certainly three per cent of those living in Merseyside are regular users. That is what I intended to say. I apologise if it was unclear.

  MR TURNER: You did state, did you not, that you were very happy with the consultation that is taking place and that everyone had been consulted, but we heard from Mr Fleming that his organisation had not in any way been consulted. How do you reconcile that?

  MR OWEN: The consultation included a number of business umbrella groups, if I can put it like that, like the local CBI and Chambers of Commerce. I cannot say directly why the Federation was not consulted. I imagine it was an unfortunate oversight that regrettably happens sometimes. The consultation exercise was a three­month, very considerable one. It was a very interactive exercise involving not just those who are normally consulted on these sort of things but tunnel users. There was a full effort made at the end of the exercise to analyse the results of the consultation and to inform consultees of the Passenger Transport Authority's decision to proceed with the Bill. We certainly feel that business interests were consulted. If I may, the consultation document I have just been handed has a list of initial consultees in Appendix 5 and the document goes on to stress: "Merseytravel wishes to stress that it would welcome views from any individual users of the tunnels and representatives of the local community. To that end the initiation of this consultation document will be given wide publicity." Appendix 5 is a long list of consultees ­ business community representatives, Liverpool Stores Committee, Chambers of Commerce and Industry from Mersey, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton, and the Wirral. There are other headings with trade unions, for example the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, motorists, motoring organisations, public transport operators, local community representatives, academia, MPs from Merseyside and Mersey belt constituencies, and local and public authorities of Merseyside. So it was certainly felt that a very fair attempt had been made to capture all of those who had an interest. I accept, of course, that the Federation is not on that list and that is very much an oversight. I am sure that is the case.

  MR ATKINSON: Could you help me on one point. Under the existing arrangement Merseytravel has to publish an intention to increase tolls whereby outside organisations, like the ones represented perhaps here today, are able to make representations to oppose those. That is correct, is it not?

  MR OWEN: That is correct. The current procedure is if there are unsustained objections there is a public inquiry. That applies if Merseytravel is seeking an increase in line with inflation or a real terms increase. There have been over the last 20 or 30 years eight such public inquiries and in every case the increase applied for has been approved despite there being objections. Certainly the proposal here is that the tolls be index linked to keep them in line with inflation automatically in terms of there being an annual review, not necessarily an increase but an annual review, and if inflation has been sufficient in that year then the tolls will go up. Certainly that is the procedure.

  MR ATKINSON: If this Bill becomes law what other avenue would there be for people to make any representation to Merseytravel? I believe the Secretary of State has some role in it.

  MR OWEN: If I can answer your question in two parts. So far as inflationary increases are concerned, whilst the review procedure would be automatic, the Bill does provide for the Passenger Transport Authority to ­ and I am not sure Members of the Court have the Bill in front of them ­ at each occasion before the tolls go up in line with inflation to consider the economic and social consequences of that and, if necessary, to temper that inflationary increase. There is protection there and of course Merseytravel is made up of publicly elected representatives.

  MR ATKINSON: If, for instance, the petitioners thought that the Executive had not properly considered the economic and other impacts of it, they would actually have no opportunity to make any representations?

  MR OWEN: They would in the extreme be able to apply for a judicial review of Merseytravel's decision not to temper tolls because of economic considerations, and of course they would be able to try and persuade members of the Passenger Transport Authority to exercise that power because they would have direct access to them being their own councillors in their own districts.

    That was the significant modification to the first Bill. We have sought to put that protection in to temper, in appropriate circumstances, in case of an economic slowdown or such circumstances, the effect of the index-linking of the tolls. Certainly in terms of real terms of toll increases then the provision in the Bill is largely identical to the current legislation, which is that there would be an ability for the Secretary of State to hold a public inquiry if he felt that the real terms increase being sought by Merseytravel warranted a public inquiry and if objections were such that a public inquiry was warranted. That would be the procedure in terms of real terms toll increases.

  MR ATKINSON: Could you explain, Mr Owen, why it is that the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority should be so concerned about these organisations petitioning a Private Bill Committee? In normal circumstances Private Bill Committees, and I was the veteran of a very long-running one, were quite happy and prepared to hear petitioners. It was part and parcel of the procedure. Why should you be so excited that Mr McCoy should come and give evidence?

  MR OWEN: We are, as I indicated in opening, doing what Parliament has enjoined promoters of Bills to do, which is to police the rules. Last time round, when the Bill was considerably broader and dealt with powers to operate the tunnels on a concession, we acknowledged that there were concerns being expressed by the tunnel unions in that case that could affect the terms and conditions of the employment of their members and therefore we did not challenge the locus standi of these — broadly — same petitioners last time round, but for good reasons. We thought, "Well, we do not agree with what you are saying but we can understand why you might be concerned. We are going to try and take you through those concerns".

    We do not feel this time around that they have really thought about the Bill. We do not feel that they have acknowledged that it is a very different Bill in that we are not pursuing powers for the tunnel to be operated on a concession by a private sector company. We feel they have not really responded to the changes we have made and the petitions actually bear a striking resemblance to the petitions the first time round. That was why we felt in this case that the time of honourable Members going through a two or three week Opposed Bill Committee based on these petitions was not worthwhile. We do not feel that they are specially and directly affected; it is an unjustified use of time and we are operating the rules.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: Mr Owen, would you agree that it is fair to characterise the Bill which your clients are promoting as being innovative, that is to say, that by providing that the proceeds of tolls may be applied for purposes other than the construction and maintenance of the tunnels it is breaking in Private Bill terms new ground? Would that be a fair way of characterising it?

  MR OWEN: In terms of the power to cross-subsidise, which is what I think you are referring to, certainly the index-linking provisions are precedented in the Dartford Crossing legislation and the Severn Crossing legislation. In terms of the power to cross-subsidise, of course the precedent has been set by the Transport Act 2000 and the Government's policy on road congestion user charging and providing for a ring-fenced funding mechanism to improve local transport services and the like. We merely feel that this Bill is a local application of what is now established policy and therefore, whilst we think it is an imaginative use of the existing tunnels' structures to try and improve public transport in Merseyside, we do not think it is setting a precedent in that respect.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: The precedent is in public legislation. In terms of private legislation do you accept that cross-subsidisation is an innovation for private legislation? I agree that you have got a public Bill precedent, but for private legislation that was something that has not happened before.

  MR OWEN: I would accept that. Unless I am mistaken I am not sure it is anything that the petitioners have objected to in terms of the precedent, but yes.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: Secondly, and this is perhaps an introduction to this question, on your argument on locus standi is there any body, either an individual or a representative body, which would have locus standi to petition against the Bill? Is there any party out there who has not come forward who in your view could have come forward, or would your argument defeat any available petitioner?

  MR OWEN: It is certainly one of those Bills where it is quite hard to believe who could be specially and directly affected. I have not gone through a mental exercise of dreaming up who could have petitioned and who therefore we would not have objected to because they would be specially and directly affected. All we can go on is what we have before us, of course, which is three petitions, and, looking at those, we do not feel they are in that category of petitioners who historically have been allowed to pursue their concerns through Parliament.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: We are dealing with an unusual state of affairs where the authority for the construction of the tunnel and the authority for its financing (or its financing put on a new basis) are done through separate Bills. The tunnel was built a long time ago and now you want to change the basis on which it is financed. On the basis of your argument that the petitioners need to show that there is a direct effect on their trade or interest through the changes in the finances, it seems to me that perhaps no-one would actually be able to meet your test. That is the point I am making.

  MR OWEN: That may well be the case. I imagine that if a substantial public body or even one of the local authorities had petitioned — we would not have got this far — but, were one of the local authorities to have been vehemently opposed to it but nevertheless it was carried through the Passenger Transport Authority, then I would thought undoubtedly that kind of petitioner would have a locus standi. I think that because our Bill does address matters of public policy, whether it is appropriate (albeit in local legislation rather than public general legislation) to cross-subsidise and so on are matters of public policy, we would say, and therefore they are matters on which members of Parliament are best qualified to and should judge through the procedures that will still apply to this Bill were the Court to rule today that locus is to be disallowed. There would still obviously be Committee proceedings, the Second Reading, and all the safeguards that are put in place for that very reason.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: I suspect that if a local authority had petitioned against the Bill you might have argued against it on the ground that they were constituent parts of the promoter. Pressing on a bit, you have explained to a certain extent why you did not object to the petitions on the previous occasions. Did you accept then that certain of the petitioners, at least the individual trade unions, had locus standi?

  MR OWEN: In so far as we clearly, once we had received the petitions, did think about locus standi, and because of the second half of that Bill dealing with the future operation and maintenance of the tunnels on the basis of Merseytravel wanting to pursue a public private partnership with a concessionaire, for that reason alone we felt that whilst we did not agree with the concerns being put forward we could understand why they might feel concerned, because clearly transfer of undertakings under a concession agreement to the private sector can raise all sorts of concerns about pensions, terms and conditions of employment, etc. We can understand why they petitioned on that ground.

    We did not apply our minds to the first part of the Bill because the heat was very much on the second part of the Bill last time around and the petitioners last time around did not really focus, I would argue, a great deal on the first part of the Bill, but because now it is all they have got to focus on, even though it is still the same in material respects, we looked at this in greater detail this time around because we felt that there was not a case for petitions on the ground of them being specially and directly affected.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: In effect what you are saying is that it was easier for the petitioners last time round to show that they had been injuriously affected because the Bill went wider.

  MR OWEN: Yes.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL. And I understand the argument on that. The third limb of your argument on Standing Order 95 was that petitioners not only have to allege that there is some injurious effect on their trade or interest from the Bill; they also have to prove it. I would like a bit more help on this. Presumably your argument derives from precedent, from decisions of the Court rather than from the terms of the Standing Order, which seems to me simply to require that the petitioners allege some injurious effect.

    The point I am trying to make is that if we were to require petitioners to prove that effect as rigorously as you seem to be suggesting we would be anticipating the Opposed Bill Committee that would follow if the petitioners were granted leave. The extent of the effect on their interest would be one of the major subject matters for the Opposed Bill Committee. Are you arguing that we should anticipate that now and, if so, on what authority?

  MR OWEN: The point is really that, as some lawyers would still say, the petitioners would have to make out a prima facie case. They cannot just say in their petition (not that they have, of course) that their members are injuriously affected without there being some credibility behind that statement, because anyone could say that sort of thing. Our submission would be that the Court on this case would need to ask itself whether it had heard any evidence that was a basis for that possibly being the case. Of course, I accept that the role of the Court is not the same by any means as the role of the Opposed Bill Committee, but cases in the past on this point have made it clear that the Court does inquire a little bit in terms of whether, even if it is said in the petition that there is going to be a special or direct effect, that is a credible claim. Maybe "prove" was putting it a little too strongly.

  SPEAKER'S COUNSEL: It is a very helpful clarification. The burden you are putting on the petitioners is to produce a prima facie case that there is an injurious effect rather than to prove it as they might before an Opposed Bill Committee.

  MR OWEN: Yes.

  CHAIRMAN: Could you just assist me? Are these petitioners the self-same in every exact sense as the petitioners last time to whom you did not take objection?

  MR OWEN: No, Mr Chairman. The Merseyside and West Cheshire Region of the Federation did not petition last time round. The North West Regional Council did, but the significant difference is in the third one, the Transport and General Workers' Union, etc, because last time round — and I do not have it with me — certainly UNISON was included as a petitioner whereas UNISON this time has come out in support of the Bill and UNISON is clearly an important union for the tunnels and Merseyside generally, as it is in the rest of the country. In terms of the identity of the petitioners there is a key difference there, we would say.

    So far as the petition content is concerned, certainly they have significantly fleshed out their objections to what was Part I of the first Bill because now Part I is all there is to go on whereas last time around they directed their attention very much on the concession parts of the first Bill and I think we felt at the time, just through good measure, that there were a few objections to the tolling parts of the first Bill which, as I have said, were largely the same as the Bill now before Parliament. I am not sure, Chairman, if that helps.

  CHAIRMAN: So we have the North West Regional Council of the TUC who were a petitioner last time.

  MR OWEN: They were.

  CHAIRMAN: And you did not object to them?

  MR OWEN: We did not object to them for the reasons I have explained.

  CHAIRMAN: Indeed, and the unions who formed a separate petition, did they still include the TGWU, the GMBU, the AEU and UCATT who are now minus UNISON?

  MR OWEN: From memory, Chairman, yes.

  CHAIRMAN: And Mr McCoy?

  MR OWEN: Yes.

  CHAIRMAN: Including Mr McCoy?

  MR OWEN: Yes.

  CHAIRMAN: And you did not object to Mr McCoy?

  MR OWEN: We did not, again —

  CHAIRMAN: Despite the very strong reasons you put before the Court today that he could not possibly be accepted?

  MR OWEN: Clearly in that case we had to assess what benefit would be derived from objecting to Mr McCoy. Had we been successful on the doctrine of representation point then, it would not have got us very far because all of the other petitioners would still have been left in there because it is quite open to the Court to say in relation to a joint petition such as this one, "Mr McCoy, sorry: we are not going to allow your locus but the others can continue". We did not think it was at all worthwhile.

  CHAIRMAN: Why not, because we could make the distinction between any one of the petitions if we chose, so why did you not?

  MR OWEN: The purpose of locus standi challenges is of course, as the Joint Committee said, to help Parliament in its procedures and the whole purpose of the joint report was to deal with the time Private Bills were taking up in Parliament and therefore, had we successfully challenged Mr McCoy but not the others (because we clearly did not have a basis for challenging the others), it would not have changed the procedure at all because there still would have been, had the Bill got beyond the Second Reading stage, an Opposed Bill Committee and the fact that Mr McCoy was not there to give his own evidence we felt would have made a very marginal difference to the proceedings that would have been before the Committee at the instigation of the other petitioners who remained. A judgement clearly has to be made in those sorts of cases, Chairman, in terms of whether it is beneficial to Parliament to pursue a locus challenge.

  CHAIRMAN: But you would accept that the main difference, so far as the petitioners are concerned, whether they have proved that they are directly and specially affected, or indeed everybody is concerned so far as facing increases in charges, is that there is now no longer the automaticity of a public inquiry if they wanted it. It would depend on the Secretary of State.

  MR OWEN: For real terms increases that is right, it would depend on the Secretary of State. Certainly we would point out that real terms increases are very different from inflationary increases and so far as inflationary increases are concerned, just as tolls go up in line with inflation, so do other costs and of course earnings historically go up above inflation. We think therefore that the economic effect of an inflationary increase mechanism is neutral, very much so.

  CHAIRMAN: Against the loss of that right there is a substantive difference between the two things. What is two or three weeks before a parliamentary committee? Is that not a fair deal, that if they are losing out for ever on something that they had before they might be judged to have at least one go before a parliamentary committee to put the case? Is two to three weeks in the oceans of time really a terrible thing?

  MR OWEN: That of course is one way to look at it. I can really just repeat that we did not feel that these were issues of private interest. It is public policy on which it is Parliament's job to decide whether it is appropriate for public inquiries to be dispensed with in these circumstances or not.

  CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much indeed. Could I ask you all to withdraw whilst the Court deliberates?

Agents and parties are directed to withdraw

and, after a short time, are again called in

  CHAIRMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, we are grateful to you for the presentations that you have made and the helpful way in which you have dealt with the questions of the members of the Court.

    We have decided to grant locus to the North West Regional Council of the Trades Union Congress, to the TGWU, the GMBU, the AEEU and UCATT but not Mr William McCoy, and we have decided to grant locus to Merseyside and West Cheshire Region of the Federation of Small Businesses.

    We have heard the arguments about degree of representation but we believe on balance, unanimously, that there is a case to be heard and that there is no detriment to the procedures of Parliament that it should be heard in the Opposed Private Bill Committee when these matters can be thrashed out and adjudicated on in the normal way.

    Thank you very much indeed for your attendance.

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