Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Stephen Hesford : I am prepared to accept that my statistics are not as good as those of other hon. Members, but will my hon. Friend explain what he means by a "mean average"? Why did he choose that particular calculation as opposed to a median average or some other average for the five-year period?

Mr. Chapman: I shall have to work this out. What I think I mean is that, if the figures over a period of five years were variously three, four, three, four and eight, the sum total would be 18, which, when divided by five, would give the mean average. I hope that that is right; that is certainly my intention.

Mr. Field: The Chancellor is changing the basis for calculating price increases.

Mr. Chapman: What I am proposing here is a five-yearly rise. I want to limit the rises as far as possible because, to tell the truth, I do not believe that rises are justified at all.

Mr. Howarth: I know that my hon. Friend is an honourable man, and I know that he would not wish deliberately to mislead the House. In view of some of the statements that he has already made, therefore, will he confirm the following three points? First, Merseytravel employs 824 staff—not 900 as he said—many of whom are employed in such activities as ensuring that there is disabled access.

Stephen Hesford: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was in the Chamber when the figure of 900 came up, and it did not come from my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman), but from my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas). My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South then adopted it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should know by now that that is not a point of order; it is a point of debate. I believe that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) was intervening on his hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman).

Mr. Howarth: I was indeed. Just for the sake of accuracy—wherever the figure of 900 came from—will

10 Jun 2003 : Column 618

my hon. Friend confirm that there are 824 staff, many of whom are employed in necessary activities such as ensuring that there is disabled access? Will he also confirm that the audit arrangements, which he and some other hon. Members have criticised, involve the district auditor auditing the accounts of Merseytravel or the passenger transport authority, that they have been done like that for 15 years, and that they have never been qualified? Finally, will he confirm that what the Bill proposes, and what he is seeking to amend, are not annual increases but an annual review? Those two things are not necessarily the same.

Mr. Chapman: First, the figure of 900 people, which my hon. Friend suggests is not as it should be, is a figure that I obtained from the Library of the House. I therefore thought that it would have sufficient collateral attached to it. On my hon. Friend's point about the accounts, I shall come to that issue in a moment and I intend to cover it as far as I can. If my hon. Friend intervened on me again, he could remind me of his second point.

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend has tempted me, but he has dealt with my first and second points. It was the third point that he missed, which was that the Bill provides for an annual review—a provision that he seeks to amend—and not necessarily an annual increase, and that the two are not necessarily the same.

Mr. Chapman: On that point, it is my firmly held view that, although Merseytravel built into the Bill a provision to review the increase every year and to decide whether or not to implement it, the idea of Merseytravel not implementing an increase would be similar to turkeys voting for Christmas. After all, this is the body that introduced the Bill, the body that promoted the Bill and the body which, in my view, has shown a tendency never to resist spending or raising tunnel tolls.

5.15 pm

Mr. Wareing: As always, my hon. Friend is being generous in giving way.

Whether we are talking about an annual review or an annual increase, the fact remains that the Bill allows for an annual increase. If toll increases, inflationary as they would be, are regularly imposed annually, businesses will be subject to a great deal of uncertainty. A five-year period would help them to plan.

Mr. Chapman: I entirely agree.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston): I apologise for intervening on discussion of what is principally a Merseyside matter, but as I intend to take advantage of the opportunity to vote, I should be grateful for some clarification. Coming as I do from the only passenger transport authority area in Scotland, I am interested in passenger transport authorities. Would the amendments have an adverse effect on the maintenance and refurbishment of the tunnels, and on Merseyside's public transport in general?

Mr. Chapman: Certainly not. Ample money is available in Merseyside PTA, and indeed on

10 Jun 2003 : Column 619

Merseyside, which—unlike my hon. Friend's area, I suspect—benefits from objective 1 status. Money is now chasing projects rather than projects chasing money.

I want to limit the increases not to place a burden on business, but to take account of the profits said to be inherent in the accounts of Merseytravel. It is said, for example, that any surpluses may have been transferred to reserves or appropriated, so that the bottom line does not show the full extent of the profit.

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend is, as I have said, an honourable man, who would not wish to mislead the House. He should, however, reflect on the answer that he gave our hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall). The amendments would limit Merseytravel's revenue-raising capacity, and a delay of, say, five years could well lead to the circumstances described by our hon. Friend. Wise though he is, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South cannot stare too far into the future. The restriction of revenue could, over a number of years, affect the amount available for improvements, alterations and even safety measures.

Mr. Chapman: I do not think so. I think there is enough money in the tunnels, in the authority and in Merseyside to cater for almost any eventuality. What we should perhaps do is explore those sources of funds more than we have hitherto, rather than expecting users of the tunnel to pay for services when they have no practical alternative to the use of those services. That is unjust and immoral.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I am sure my hon. Friend knows that objective 1 money cannot be used to fund revenue-based projects, which include health and safety projects. Moreover, in the absence of toll increases, the burden of financing substantial health and safety improvements will fall on Merseyside's ratepayers, including vast numbers of people who do not currently use the tunnel. Hence the need for the Bill.

Mr. Chapman: I do not accept that argument. We have been told that there is an obligation to repay money to the districts but my understanding is that, at least in some circumstances, that money has not been repaid but gone into the general accounts of Merseytravel.

We need to explore, which I am attempting to do, how much money is around. I do not think that it is right in economic terms or any other terms that the users of the tunnel should fund transport schemes on Merseyside. I am content that the users of the tunnel should fund the tunnels and improvements to them, as well as better facilities in them—and, if need be, fund more tunnels—but I do not think that it is right and proper to use money raised from tunnel tolls to fund other projects.

Mr. Field: Has not the sponsor of the Bill let the cat out of the bag? The objection that many of us have to the Bill is that it taxes the limited number of people who use the tunnel and that the money will be used to finance transport projects far away, which our constituents will not use. If the amendment were carried, there might not be enough money in the tunnels' budget to pay for basic repairs and health and safety work. The sponsor of the

10 Jun 2003 : Column 620

Bill says that it would be unfair if taxpayers who never use the tunnel had to foot that bill, but the point behind all our amendments is that those who support the Bill wish to tax our constituents for the benefit of other constituents who never use the tunnel.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I must again advise the House that issues of general principle in connection with the Bill are most appropriately discussed on Second Reading and on Third Reading. At the moment, we are discussing a particular group of amendments. The debate should be confined to those.

Mr. Chapman: I hope that you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, will accept my line of argument. What I propose to argue is that a five-yearly review is more appropriate than an annual review, or annual increase, whichever hon. Members prefer, because there is no need for increases in the first place. Part of that results from the accounting practices of the Merseyside passenger transport authority.

Mr. Kilfoyle: My hon. Friend makes much of the argument that there is loads of money sloshing around on Merseyside. He has repeated the claim that, hidden away within the accounts of Merseytravel, there is money that is either being wasted or not used for the purpose for which it was designated. Is he also saying that the five local authorities on Merseyside have money to spare that they can throw at the tunnels, disproportionately—I am one of the first to admit it—for the benefit of some constituents rather than others? Is the gist of his argument that the cost can be met from within the existing funds of the five local authorities, including Wirral?

Next Section

IndexHome Page