Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The answer to that is no, he cannot.

Mr. George Howarth: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As did your predecessor in the Chair, you have properly and repeatedly drawn our attention to what is and is not a proper intervention, yet hon. Friends—and, I confess, on at least one occasion myself—have repeatedly led speakers in the opposite direction. Is it not about time that we all realised that we should be debating the amendment?

10 Jun 2003 : Column 637

6.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not strictly a point of order, but it would be sensible if the hon. Gentleman took his own advice.

Mr. Field: We are told that if one sinner repents, there is much rejoicing in heaven. If my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East will not try to lead us further astray with his interventions, it will help our proceedings.

Amendment No. 18 relates to proposed new section 91(3), which has five sub-paragraphs, in schedule 1. I do not object to the transport authority being given the power to vary tunnel costs under the Bill so that the costs and expenses that it incurs in managing, operating and maintaining the tunnels' undertakings are met. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby suggested that somehow we were trying to move amendments that would mean that the authority could not maintain the tunnels in the way in which people expect. I have no wish for the authority to be without those funds.

Sub-paragraph (b) would ensure that the authority had the money to pay off the interest on money that had been borrowed to finance the tunnels' construction and some past debt. I do not object to tunnel tolls being set to a level that fully covers maintenance and the health and safety aspects, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby rightly drew attention earlier. We are also not in the business of ratting on people who have lent money. There is a perfect legal right for interest to be paid on the debts and for the money to be repaid.

I do not object to the authority having the power to change tolls under the Bill and thus ensure that payments to the reserves and renewals fund are maintained in respect of tunnel undertakings. I do not want to change the measure in any way that would mean that, in future, our local authorities might again be called upon to bail out the tunnels' operation. I do not wish the transport authority to be without the power to maintain the ferries. We all know that a specific private Bill would be required to get rid of the ferries.

However, I object to sub-paragraph (e). When we have covered the costs of maintenance, met all the debt interest payments, repaid the debts, got sufficient reserves in the funds to obviate the need ever to call on local authorities to bail the operations out again—the reserves are not defined; we trust the transport authority on that—and covered the costs of ferry maintenance, the PTA should not have the power to levy general taxation, specifically on those who use the tunnels, to pay for other PTA expenditure, however important, necessary or beneficial. That burden should not fall on my constituents, or those in neighbouring constituencies on either side of the tunnel entrances. If we wish to make improvements, which I support, the money should come from general, not specific funds.

Stephen Hesford: I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for giving way once again. Has he had the opportunity to undertake any research into how long a freeze of the kind mentioned in amendment No. 18 might reasonably be expected to last? How often in any given period does he believe such a freeze might occur? What circumstances in any given period are likely to arise that

10 Jun 2003 : Column 638

would make it likely that the passenger transport authority would operate the provisions in the amendment, if it were inserted into the Bill?

Mr. Field: That is the last intervention that I am going to take on this amendment, because most of the time that I have been speaking, I have been replying to interventions from my hon. Friends the Members for Crosby, for Liverpool, Walton, for Wirral, West, for Wirral, South, from the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and from the Chairman of the Committee. Obviously, I wish to make my point as clearly and powerfully as possible.

There is much merit in amendment No. 35, in that it will be a stimulus to running our transport authority even more efficiently than the present incumbents do. It is of great importance to all of us, when we try to plan each day's work—let alone each month's or each year's work—to have guidelines such as these. The freezing that is mentioned in my amendment merely relates to the fact that, if we granted the transport authority the power to raise the toll by 10p—a totally proper thing to do; we do not want people putting bits and pieces of change into the machines, which would make them even more difficult to run than at present—there could not be another automatic 10p increase until the bonus increase from a single 10p increase had been wiped out. That is a small but reasonable part of the amendment.

My main proposal is to remove schedule 1(1)(3)(e) from the record. The transport authority has a cheek to come before the House—I do not blame it for trying it on, but I hope that we are not going to fall for it—to suggest that we should permanently delegate to it powers that we have jealously guarded from giving to any Chancellor of the Exchequer for more than 400 years. It would be wrong to entrust a non-elected body, even if it has elected representatives on it, with the task—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The words that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking to leave out are covered by an amendment in the next group—amendment No. 3.

Mr. Field: But they are linked to this—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman must not question the Chair. We shall deal with those matters when we come to amendment No. 3.

Mr. Field: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I commend amendment No. 18 to the House. I hope that hon. Members realise how narrowly focused it is. Some of the other amendments are much more ambitious and sweeping than mine. I hope that the House will accept this amendment and the one that I hope to be able to speak to later in our proceedings.

Dr. Pugh: For a private Bill, this one has had a very eventful life. We are all veterans of the gruelling campaign on Second Reading, followed by the equally gruelling campaign for the carry-over, and we are very familiar with the guerrilla tactics of the hon. Members representing the Wirral, who, to be fair, have been steadfast in their opposition, and cunning in their tactics. As matters have progressed, however, it is

10 Jun 2003 : Column 639

difficult to understand the rationale behind their continued opposition, because argument after argument has been disposed of, and petitions have been withdrawn. Tonight, instead of substantial argument, we have heard a prolonged attack on the staff, the members and the executive of the Merseyside passenger transport authority. To some extent, that is a sign that those hon. Members are losing the argument.

The Bill is not about having, or not having, tolls. We have tolls. It is not about high tolls or low tolls—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not deliver a Second Reading speech or make general remarks; he must speak directly to the amendments.

Dr. Pugh: That is exactly what I am endeavouring to do. Primarily, we are discussing a mechanism for the setting of tolls, which is what all the amendments are about, and the revising of that mechanism.

We suggest the replacement of a toll-setting system that allows each and every rise to be accompanied by a public inquiry with a system allowing the MPTA, with all its faults, to raise tolls in line with inflation—according to choice, and at the time of an annual review—and to raise them above inflation only with the consent of the Secretary of State. There are arguments, into which I will not venture now, about what the surplus should be used for; amendment No. 18 touches on that. We could argue about whether it should be used for transport purposes, for instance. What we are really arguing about in this context, however, is the change in the mechanism.

I understand that the proposed change is objected to principally because of a fear of economic damage—economic damage to individuals who, according to the hon. Member for Wirral, South, already spend as much as £600 a year on travelling to and fro, and economic damage to business, which has also been mentioned today.

Stephen Hesford: Is there not a wider case than the "economic damage" case, which the hon. Gentleman and his constituents may wish to consider? Is there not the possibility of a cost to Merseyside as a whole in terms of opportunity?

Dr. Pugh: In earlier debates Members have emphasised the issue of cultural loss. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) also mentioned cancer patients going to Clatterbridge. The main point people are making, however, is that there will be appreciable costs to the citizens of Wirral, or to the community of Merseyside as a whole, in terms of economic output.

Labour Members, fearing that economic danger, would obviously prefer to retain the right to a public inquiry, rather than an inquiry involving the MPTA; but it is difficult for Members who are not from the Merseyside area to grasp what is wrong with a local authority body keeping charges in line with inflation, and why each and every protest should end in a public inquiry. Anyone who has served on a local authority body knows that, in the case of capital and revenue

10 Jun 2003 : Column 640

budgets, fees and charges are reviewed annually—yet involving the MPTA and other such bodies in the process is apparently a reprehensible crime.

Next Section

IndexHome Page