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Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): Does my hon. Friend apply the same argument about accountability to the other residuary bodies? Does he feel the same way about the waste disposal, fire and police authorities? Does he fully understand the history of how those bodies were established with regard to the abolition of the county council in the first place?
Mr. Chapman: By and large, I take the same view about those bodies, but they are not the subject of this debate. I am sure that my hon. Friend will enlighten me about that issue outside the confines of the Chamber.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): As a former member of Merseyside county council, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) referred, I can say that one great difference was that we had a forum of people who could be consulted whenever there was a policy change, including in relation to the Mersey tunnels toll increases. The Bill contains no suggestion about such a body, but there is tremendous opposition to it on Merseyside from business interests and trade unions.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): While my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) was right in an historical sense, will my hon. Friend confirm that the trade unions, with the possible exception of the self-appointed Wirral trades council, are now supportive of the Bill? At least, they did not object or continue their objections when it was considered in Committee, and the same is true of all the other objecting bodies.
Mr. Chapman: That is a matter of record, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not sure whether withdrawing objections is the same as giving support, but it is certainly a fact that the objections were withdrawn, as my hon. Friend said.
In brief, we should not have a system of taxation without representationthat is one of the cornerstones of our systembut here we have a situation in which taxation will be applied by people who cannot be voted out by those who are being taxed. Passenger transport authorities are, by their nature, political animals, yet they do not have the direct franchise given by the electors to the district council that elects their members. Although the authority comprises councillors who have been directly elected to represent a borough ward, the electorate have no control over who sits on it, and they cannot be removed. The PTA's responsibilities are probably little understood by those whose council taxes contribute a greater part of its revenue.
Mr. Frank Field: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you guide me on that ruling? I am genuinely puzzled by it. I, too, tabled amendments in this group, and, like my hon. Friend, I am worried that if we are not successful in our amendments we will give a non-elected body the power to tax. That is the case that he was putting. I am worried by your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I want to put a similar case, should I manage to catch your eye.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that his remarks about accountability must be very closely related to the particular content of the amendments, which concern a mechanism by which tolls may or may not be increased. The more general arguments to which some of the speeches and interventions have so far related are matters that are encompassed by the Bill, but not necessarily by the amendments that the hon. Member for Wirral, South has brought to our attention.
Bob Spink: Is not the point of the hon. Gentleman's amendments that they go some way towards making it more difficult for the body that is not directly accountable to those on whom the taxes would fall to impose those taxes? That is why, for instance, he wants to move from 12 months to five years and why he tabled the amendment on RPI. For my part, I do not think that he goes far enough, but I certainly support him in his general direction.
Mr. Chapman: That is precisely my point. Because the PTA is not accountable to the public, it becomes accountable to itself. Because it becomes accountable to itself, it becomes internally focused. Because it becomes internally focused, and does not see the outside argument, it tends to be profligate and to increase its resources and staff, to the extent that it now has 900 employees. In the light of your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not stay on the point, but I think that the public have the right to expect that the body should be properly accountable, and that is what my amendments are about. Whether it be in the course of our deliberations today or on Third Reading, we need to make that point and to get it across, because the situation is not doing a service to the people of Merseyside.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the passenger transport authority is profligate in its use of resources. I object to the implication that the 900 people who work for the PTA are employed for reasons that are not necessarily related to the activities of the authority, which serves the people of Merseyside well.
Mr. Chapman: I must beg to differ. Merseyside passenger transport authority operates five miles of tunnels and three modest and elderly ferries. It administers various matters, but it is responsible for only two operations. I find it difficult to understand why that requires 900 people. Doubtless, Merseytravel will send me a message, as it usually does, asking me to explain that.
Mr. Kilfoyle: If the authority is inefficient and profligate, will my hon. Friend explain why the chairman was voted chairman of the year out of all the transport authorities and why the chief executive
Mr. George Howarth: I am trying to follow my hon. Friend's argument as closely as I can, although he has a tendency to skip a few pages at a time. He appears to advance the argument that the mechanism is necessary because he does not believe that the PTA is an efficient, accountable and proper body for undertaking the tasks. Does he accept that many of us do not agree? Let me give one example. Councillor Robbie Crummie from Knowsley, who happens to be here at the moment, ensures that he is accountable not only to the borough council but to his electorate. He covers such issues in his election address. He makes himself very accountable.
Mr. Chapman: My alternative proposal is based on two ideas. In some respects, the amendments appear to contradict each other because they apply to the same clauses. However, I do not believe that they could be as damaging as the Bill. Under the first model, tolls would be increased every five years rather than every year.
Mr. Wareing: In view of the indirect choice of the PTA, what difficulties does auditing the accounts of the tolls solve? I get the impression that there is no adequate auditing of the revenues from the tolls or the way in which the money is spent.
I am proposing a mean average figure for the five years preceding the making of the new order, to provide a more equitable increase. I doubt, however, that a rise is justified at all, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) has begun to elucidate.