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Bob Spink rose—

Mr. Field: I was about to address the argument made by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), but I shall give way to him first.

Bob Spink: I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on tabling amendment No. 18, because it would achieve something laudable. It would force the Merseyside passenger transport authority to examine its efficiency and try to find management and operational efficiencies, as every other public body—police forces, educational establishments or hospitals—is forced to do. Leaving the Bill unamended would be a bad thing because it would give the authority the power to raise taxes whether or not it examined its efficiency, and would give the House no means of controlling that.

Mr. Field: It would indeed, and I wish to address that point. What is so extraordinary about the Bill if it is not amended is that it gives the Merseyside passenger transport authority powers that we have jealously guarded over the centuries because we are unwilling to concede them to a Chancellor of the Exchequer. We limit every taxation measure that the Chancellor brings to this place by giving him authority to raise taxes for one year only. The Bill would give to a body that is indirectly responsible to elected bodies in Merseyside powers that far extend those we give to our Chancellor. As soon as I read the Bill, I realised that that was unacceptable. There is much in it that I support, as I shall make clear when I speak to amendment No. 18.

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Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I seek clarification on two points. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he does not believe that the staff of Merseyside passenger transport authority are thieves? Will he also acknowledge that the inflation increases enjoyed by the fire authority and the police authority are awarded without the preamble that the MPTA is expected to pursue to get increases to support its operational activities?

Mr. Field: I have already learned about the dangers of responding to interventions, partly because I do not want to incur your disfavour, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and partly because I want to emphasise something that my hon. Friend said when she responded to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) on my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton was dragging a red herring in the path of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South, who did not answer the question that he raised. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) did, and that answer is crucial to the argument that I want to develop.

I will not respond to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby because I do not wish to attack the transport authority. It is not its fault that it has been set up by Parliament in the way that it has. Bodies such as hospitals, school boards and transport authorities will increasingly be elected directly, certainly before our political lives are over. That is what our constituents will demand of us and legislation will be introduced to that effect. However, we are not discussing that today.

I have no wish to cast aspersions on the transport authority. I do not want to consider the democratic deficit. That is the body we have. I do not, however, want to give it taxing powers of the nature that are set out in the Bill for the very reason that my good hon. Friend gave when she responded to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton. She said how awful it would be if amendment No. 35 were agreed to, because if it forced such efficiencies and sent the accounts into deficit, who would bail out the transport authority? My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton suggested that it would be the local authorities, which previously had to shoulder the body's deficits. The point he raised was proper. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said how unfair it would be that those who largely do not use the tunnels would have to make up in their council tax the deficit that might arise if amendment No. 35 were accepted. That gave the game away.

Of course, we expect hon. Members whose constituents rarely, if ever, use the tunnel to be in favour of the measure. I have had informal talks with my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who taught at what he called Birkenhead tech. That shows how long ago it was—it has changed its name twice since its students benefited from his teaching skills.

Mr. George Howarth: The body in question may well have changed its name, but I have not changed mine. If I may correct myself, it was called Birkenhead college of technology—I was just using a shorthand description.

Mr. Field: Indeed. Some of my constituents who come to me to talk about their welfare problems refer to the

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unemployment assistance board—a body that was active in the 1930s. They know that the name has changed, but other things have not. My hon. Friend is right; those of us on my side of the river knew perfectly well what he was referring to.

To return to the substantive point, I share the anguish of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that her constituents who rarely use the tunnel may, if amendment No. 35 is accepted, have to foot the bill for the deficit. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South has the cheek to suggest that her constituents should pay extra money so that people from Wirral, South, Wirral, West, areas further down the peninsula and Birkenhead can use the tunnel. May I make the case for such payments by asking a rhetorical question? Does my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby not understand the anguish of people whom we are trying to represent and who use the tunnels? Why should they pay over and above the cost of the tunnels, and other measures included in the Bill, so that there can be transport improvements in her constituency, where people rarely use the tunnel? Why should my constituents' contributions to the toll revenue pay for those improvements?

I am all in favour of the transport authority seeking ways in which to improve our transport, but I do not totally share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South about the authority. I have just moved house in Birkenhead, and use public transport more than I used to. Given the constraints on such transport, I am impressed. Of course we want further improvements, but when we make them, the cost of doings so should be fairly shared. People who are clustered around the tunnel entrances on both sides of the river constitute most of those who use the tunnel, and they should not have to pay for improvements in Crosby, Southport and elsewhere. When we come to discuss improvements, we should think about the transport authority's general powers to raise money and the general powers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise money and subsidise public transport. We should consider using those broader shoulders to carry the burden of financing improvements in Merseyside overall.

Stephen Hesford: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Field: In a moment. I am not asking people who have to use the tunnel to contribute more than anybody else or pay for improvements to the exclusion of others. I shall give way to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West, but I shall then talk about what we should give to the transport authority in the Bill, although I am not in favour of its final catch-all clause.

Stephen Hesford: Is my right hon. Friend saying that the Bill's sponsor is willing to swap what she believes is one iniquity—it arose when the cluster of local authorities that had put money into the Mersey tunnels wanted their money back—for another? The difference is that the new regime, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, will benefit the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) at the expense of ours. When money was loaned by the five

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local authorities to bail out the Mersey tunnel, it was believed that that would have economic benefits for the Mersey sub-region as a whole.

Mr. Field: I certainly agree with that, and I hope that my hon. Friend will catch the Deputy Speaker's eye so that he can develop that important view. I appeal to my hon. Friends, who are fine representatives, as I try to be in Birkenhead, to examine the issue of taxation that was raised by the previous speaker, and how that ought to override the partial interest that they have in the measure to get my constituents and other constituents who have to use the tunnel to pay for improvements in their constituencies.

6.15 pm

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: The point that I made did not ignore the fact that the people of Sefton and of Crosby have made multi-million pound donations to the development and management of the tunnels, but there comes a point when an ongoing subsidy is difficult to manage and difficult to accept, when 93 per cent. of my constituents do not use the facility. When money is tight, we must look at priorities. That is the view that I have taken on their behalf.

Mr. Field: I do not dispute that for a moment, but it is separate from the substantive issue that we are debating, or anything to do with the Bill that my hon. Friend has been proposing. When I get on to amendment No. 18—

Mr. Chapman rose—

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