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Mr. Howarth: I hesitate to intervene again because I have had to correct my hon. Friend on so many

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occasions, but will he confirm that RPI minus X, which he advocates, is the very formula that led to the bankrupting of Railtrack, that Mersey tunnel debt repayments amount to some £14 million a year—the answer that he was unable to give to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) a few moments ago—that maintenance, including the staff involved, costs £11 million a year and that capital refurbishment costs £7 million a year?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That was a very long intervention. Interventions are becoming very long.

Mr. Chapman: We have been told that Railtrack was driven into bankruptcy by that mechanism, but to the best of my knowledge, it did not go into bankruptcy, and in my view, management, rather than the formula, was the problem.

Mr. Howarth: I shall try to make this point later, but my hon. Friend is of course right, but the fact that Railtrack ended up having to be saved from bankruptcy proceedings by the then Secretary of State makes my point for me.

Mr. Chapman: Well, I do not think that it does, nor do I think that my hon. Friend has corrected me in any instance. He has certainly made some contrary points, but by no stretch of the imagination could they be called corrections.

I shall now finish. This important amendment would transform the nature of the MPTA and its relationship with local people and the local economy, and in my view it would make the relationship very much better and the organisation very much more effective.

Stephen Hesford: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I enlist your guidance on this group of amendments? I am attracted by some amendments more than others. In respect of selection for voting, if I wanted to vote on amendment No. 35, for example, would it be in order to ask to vote on it individually in due course?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Depending on how the debate has gone and on how much debate has taken place on that amendment, there is no reason why the occupant of the Chair should not allow such a vote, but that is entirely a matter for the Chair.

Bob Spink: I was the Chairman of the Committee that considered this, then opposed, private Bill some months ago. After one and a half days of sittings, the opponents withdrew and, therefore, the details—including amendments such as those in this group, which relate to tolls, the timing of the increases in tolls and the basis on which those increases would be determined—were not considered by that Committee in any way, shape or form. They were not scrutinised; the Bill itself was not scrutinised, so I must report to the House that what was broadly a bad and undemocratic Bill was not corrected and that it should now be rejected.

Let me turn to the amendments in this group. In particular, I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 22, 23, 35 and 24.

Stephen Hesford: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am grateful to him for informing

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the House of his position during consideration in Committee. Having looked at the proceedings in Committee, is it his view, as it was mine, that he and other hon. Members were not helped in their inquiries by the answers that counsel for Merseytravel gave in Committee?

Bob Spink: May I crave your indulgence for a moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker? Yes, I think that it is right to suggest that the Committee did not feel that its concerns and worries were dealt with. In particular, the Committee did not deal with items relating to amendments such as those in this group—Nos. 22, 35 and so on. There were a number of significant problems that the Committee wished to explore, but we were unable to do so because a deal was done behind the Committee's back. It was simply reported to us that the opposition had withdrawn, and the Committee had to fold immediately, without further scrutiny of this bad and undemocratic Bill.

Mr. Frank Field: Given that the hon. Gentleman chaired the Committee stage of this private Bill, what he has just said is immensely important. I wish him to emphasise it, because there is some criticism in Merseyside of those who wish to scrutinise the Bill properly, and we are dubbed "wreckers". It is important that people back home realise that had those who were lodging objections not done, as he described it, a deal behind the Committee's back, the Committee stage would have taken its proper time, with proper consideration, and would have reported—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has made his point. The hon. Gentleman who has the Floor ought now to deal with the amendments before the House.

Mr. Kilfoyle: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened carefully to the serious allegations made about the way in which business was conducted surrounding this private Bill, and I seek your guidance. I presume that there is a mechanism in the House whereby the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and other Committee members, if they felt so persuaded, could take up their complaints about lack of co-operation in relation to the promoters' legal advisers on the Bill, and have the matter deliberated on. Could you advise us on what that mechanism is?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: There are all sorts of ways in which Members can go about their business in this House, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. My concern is to preserve the business today. To that end, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman who has the Floor would deal with the amendments before the House.

Bob Spink: I am delighted to turn to the amendments, which go some way towards removing the power to tax from a body that is not directly accountable to those on whom those taxes would fall. The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) was therefore right to table amendments that seek to restrict the power of the Merseyside passenger transport authority to raise taxes through tolls. If the Bill is passed without amendment, the House will be unable to prevent the MPTA from

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raising taxes. The MPTA would effectively have more power even than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is at least nominally controllable by this House.

Dr. Pugh: The hon. Gentleman makes an issue of the power to tax by a body that is indirectly elected. It has already been said that that is not unique on Merseyside. The Merseyside police authority has the power to tax via a precept everybody on Merseyside, regardless of whether they use its facilities. What does he think of that—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The debate is now moving all over the place. It is about narrowly defined amendments, and if the hon. Gentleman cannot address them, I must ask him to resume his seat.

Bob Spink: I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was attempting to address the amendments. Let me go straight to amendment No. 35, which relates to RPI minus X. Under that amendment, X is fixed by the Secretary of State, who is accountable to this House, and this House is accountable to the population on whom the taxes would fall. It therefore strikes me that the amendment is extremely democratising and entirely worthy, and is therefore worthy of our support.

Stephen Hesford: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday mentioned to the House moving away from the RPI to a more European model? Would the hon. Gentleman like to see a more European model inserted into the Bill?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have to say that the hon. Gentleman is trying the patience of the Chair.

6 pm

Bob Spink: I do not think that the amendment contains a European model, and I would not support such a measure.

It is not right to say that just because the system contains some anomalies and several non-democratic bodies are effectively able to raise taxation without representation, we should create another such body. The whole point of the amendments is to seek to make the Bill more democratic and taxation procedures more accountable to the people on whom the taxes would fall. I support the amendments, so far as they go, and if possible, I would like them to go further.

Mr. Field: I support amendment No. 18, which is tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford). I shall also speak to amendment No. 35.

I have a different frame of mind from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman). I do not share his views about the transport authority. I have been a Member of the House for a little longer than him and have had eye-to-eye contact with several bodies whose behaviour reflects badly on my constituents' welfare and with which I am unhappy. I rejoice that I am not trying to have an eye-to-eye with the transport authority today.

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Recent changes have been beneficial. I admire my hon. Friend's courage for speaking as he did and saying what he believed to be true while knowing that those views would get back to the people about whom he spoke. I usually find it easier to be rude to people than to be polite, so I have a slightly different role this evening vis-à-vis the transport authority.

It is worth putting on record the fact that amendment No. 35 relates to a different period from that covered by my stewardship of my constituency. It also relates directly to my hon. Friend's questions about efficiency. The amendment and the way in which he spoke to it were attractive.

I shall tell the House a tale. In my early days as a Member, the tunnel workers held a strike. The then tunnel authorities put out honesty buckets and found that they collected more money from the buckets than they did when the staff were at work and tolls were collected. That might suggest that it is totally proper that the transport authority in our area, as opposed to authorities about which I know nothing, has its mind wonderfully concentrated on finding ways to run the tunnels more efficiently.

Although I admire the skills of the senior officers who look after the transport authority, we all know what happens if we have a mechanism that concentrates the mind wonderfully—that is what Dr. Johnson said about being hanged in the morning. The RPI minus X provision in amendment No. 35 might well do that, and I hope that we will have the chance to vote on it.

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