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Mr. Chope: Will the hon. Gentleman expand on the interrelationship between what he has just said and the fact that there is to be a public inquiry later this year into raising the tunnel tolls with effect from 1 April 2004?

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Mr. Chapman: It is indeed curious that the Merseyside passenger transport authority is applying for an increase under the old regime at the same time as it is applying for automatic increases through the Bill. Merseytravel might have good cause to seek increases under the present system, for purposes for which it claims at the time, and in the past, it has always secured such increases, albeit after a public inquiry. I have no problem with tunnel toll increases that are justified and rationalised. I do have a problem with increases that are automatic and unjustified, except for the fact that the price of a loaf of bread has gone up. On that ground and others, I believe that this is a bad Bill.

Whichever way we view it, the debt is a dreadful burden, and the traditional tactics of prevarication and procrastination must stop. Acknowledging the permanence of the debt's presence is not the answer. Each administration sought to pass the buck to the next, and delayed the fabled time of completion to another distant day. It is my hope that amendments Nos. 6 and 8 might focus minds better and that Merseytravel might even work to pay off the debt faster than is currently required. I suggest that a more formalised relationship between the raising of tolls and the repayment of debt is needed.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West): Has my hon. Friend noticed that the sponsor of the Bill has sat on the Liberal Democrat Bench and on our Bench, and has now disappeared from the Chamber? My hon. Friend's important points are not being listened to and, I assume, will not be answered.

Mr. Chapman: I have been remiss; I had not noticed what my hon. Friend tells me. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), who is absent from the Chamber, will read the record of the debate assiduously.

Mr. Frank Field: It is not so much a question of reading it; we want answers today to take back to our constituents.

Mr. Chapman: Indeed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby will reappear shortly to take part in the debate.

There needs to be a more formal relationship between the raising of tolls and the repayment of debt. Following the repayment, should the consultation that the Bill obliges it to stage agree to MPTA using the tolls for other projects, it would then have a healthy pot to work from.

Stephen Hesford: It may be that my hon. Friend knows something that we do not. Are the Bill's promoters conceding these points?

Mr. Chapman: It may be that the quality of my argument obliged my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby to leave the Chamber in despair, but I have my doubts about that.

One would think that if one did what I was proposing, it would be big enough to sate even Merseytravel's burgeoning appetite, and that some thought could be given to reducing tunnel tolls and acting in the best

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interests of tunnel users. It might also mean that the five authorities received the lost money, which would be of benefit to council tax payers all over Merseyside. I will, of course, not hold my breath.

Mr. Frank Field: I rise to speak to amendment No. 16, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford). I welcome back to our proceedings and to our Benches my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) who represents the promoter of the Bill. I am sure that she will bear down with her normal forcefulness upon the probing amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) so that we can perhaps understand the mind of the Bill's promoter better than we have hitherto.

The amendment would ensure that the residents in the area surrounding the newer of the two tunnels in Merseyside—the residents of Wallasey—were able to claim to have the cost of insulating their homes met by tunnel users. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West and I tabled the amendment so there could be no misunderstanding locally over that issue.

Some Labour Members may have a wider brief in terms of their disputes with Merseytravel, but mine is narrowly drawn. There are many aspects of Merseytravel's activities of which I approve, none more so than its efforts to provide a more adequate bus service for my constituents while running a system whereby they cannot control those people to whom they give licences. That is the equivalent of the NHS buying treatments from the private sector, but the private sector saying, "We will decide what operations we do on the patients you send us."

We have the ludicrous state of affairs in which Merseytravel has to pay taxpayers' money to private suppliers of bus transportation but cannot dictate how that money is used in the best interests of our constituents.

On all those fronts, I have no dispute with Merseytravel, but I do have a central dispute with the Bill, which I want to put on record. The Bill is a taxing measure, so I wish to underscore the points raised earlier by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) who, for once, did not make the most of the evidence that he put before the House.

4 pm

Usually, when voters are asked in surveys whether they would like someone else to pay tax increases so that they can benefit, most of them say, "Yippee, that is a rather good idea". That used to be the attitude of the Labour movement towards increases in income tax when most of our supporters did not pay it. We were rather in favour of increasing income tax in those days. When the tax threshold fell and practically all voters paid direct taxation, sadly, after a rather long spell, we had to learn the lesson that our voters, like everyone else, do not like tax increases. The consultation of people in Merseyside was amazing and it says something about the generosity of character of fellow voters on the other side of the river that, when they could have taxed Wirral residents to their own benefit, they thought that

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it was not a good idea. That also tells us something about the measure before us.

I may be corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby when she replies to the probing amendments, but I believe that we should have some list to demonstrate the way in which the Bill's promoter has tried to meet the reasonableness of many, if not all, of the amendments. As the hon. Member for Christchurch said, it is a custom of the House—though sometimes broken—that the promoters of private Bills try to engage with those who are worried about certain aspects and, where possible, do a trade-off with them. How does the Bill differ at this stage of its proceedings from when it was introduced? I suggest that the promoter of this Bill has not conceded a dot or comma to the alternative views put forward.

Stephen Hesford: Does my right hon. Friend recall from previous debates that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), whom I see in his place, sat on the Committee considering the Bill? Not only has the promoter failed to engage with those who have an interest in the issues, I recall that it did not engage very satisfactorily with the Committee. My right hon. Friend made a similar complaint on a previous occasion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It would be helpful if hon. Members dealt with the particular group of amendments rather than previous history.

Mr. Field: The message goes out that if we have another private Bill from this source, it would be suitable for some Members of Parliament to object so that they do not have to withdraw at a later stage. The House must be able to give proper consideration to a measure of this sort.

I end where I began. I support much in the Bill, but it is a taxing measure. I am puzzled that the Government have allowed it to go forth without trying to have it amended. I am puzzled that the Government are prepared to use not only the payroll vote to whip the Bill through, but the Standing Orders of the House to allow us to debate it to any hour. Given the danger of a Labour Government being seen as a tax-raising body, the only reason that I can see why the Government are allowing the Bill to go ahead is that they do not understand what is in it. If they did, I suspect that they would have objected to the same provisions to which we object.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the Bill is whipped through by the Government—although they say that that is not what is happening—it will be the Government who will bear the blame for the cross-financing of services on Merseyside, and not the Merseyside passenger transport authority?

Mr. Field: Some of us are doing our best to ensure that individual hon. Members are not to blame when our constituents are taxed in the manner proposed. If I represented Crosby—I have no wish to do so, as I love representing my constituency—I might have been tempted to introduce a Bill to tax people in Birkenhead

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to the benefit of voters in Crosby. However, even if I did that, in some muddled moment, the Bill would still not be fair or sustainable.

The Government will get this measure for Merseytravel today, but the Bill will then travel to another place. It has aroused such opposition from some local Members that the Government have had to invoke the new procedure that allows a Bill to be carried over to a new Session of Parliament. It is clear that this Bill will begin to break records, in that it will have to be carried over to a third Session of Parliament. We will not be able to stop the Bill today, but the Government and Merseytravel may run into a lot more trouble in the other place.

I hope that that is the case. I shall be working with those forces in the other place to make sure that the Bill does not become law.

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