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Mr. George Howarth: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the way in which he is trying to trivialise the debate only goes to prove the pointlessness of trying to engage him in debate?

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman will have to judge whether he thinks that I am trivialising the debate. I am trying to be serious, and I have expressed my concern that we have not heard the view of the Liberal Democrats, although that is not unusual.

It is appalling that the Government have not joined in the debate. Why has the Minister not spoken? The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) made a good contribution in which he laid down a number of challenges to the Government. Why is the Minister not earning his keep by responding?

4.45 pm

The explanatory memorandum says that the Bill will

Many of us think that that is a total misreading of the situation. Does the Minister believe that the Bill will assist the authority in implementing the Government's policies on integrated transport? Does it have the overt support of the Government, or are they neutral on it? The Government Whips have been determined to force the measure through. In such circumstances, it is even more despicable that the Minister is not prepared to stand up at the Dispatch Box and allow himself to be exposed to questions from his right hon. and hon. Friends who want to know where the Government stand.

I do not usually get angry in the House, but the past few minutes of the debate have made me extremely cross. The suspicions of people in Merseyside, and on the Wirral peninsula in particular, who think that they are victims of a ghastly conspiracy to do them down and

29 Oct 2003 : Column 377

to tax them heavily for their use of an essential route to work are well founded. The behaviour of the promoter and the Minister bears that out.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby made excellent pertinent points. I hope that he will table parliamentary questions to his ministerial colleague to get some answers. Alternatively, perhaps he will complain to his Whips that it is not conventional for a Minister not to respond to points raised by a Labour Member. No one can say that we are short of time. The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) spoke extensively in earlier debates and there was no chance for others to join in before the motion for closure was moved. Ironically, the Government were able to hide behind the closure and not explain themselves. That is not possible today because the debate has only been going on for just over an hour. The Minister has every opportunity to explain for the first time the Government's opinion of the Bill and the amendments, but he has manifestly declined so to do. That is typical of the Government's arrogance. If they and the sponsor are not prepared to listen to their own Members, all we can do is hope that they will be forced to change their attitude in another place.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) for contributing to the debate. He brings a special expertise because of his experience of serving on the Committee that discussed the Bill before it was withdrawn. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) asked some important questions that have not been answered. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) was right to say that I did not make the most of the strong arguments that should be deployed on how the Bill is a taxing measure, which it is: it is a stealth tax—a stealth congestion charge. It is clear that there is no intention to pay off the debt on the tunnels by using the proceeds of the tolls. The purpose is to try to raise extra charges to deter people from using the tunnels and to transfer money from tunnel users to other parts of Merseyside for various public sector projects. A number of hon. Members have referred to the fact, which is inherent to the debate, that the people of Merseyside will not get good value for money out of the tunnels.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) rose—

Hon. Members: Ah.

Dr. Pugh: Well, in the interests of consistency I am required to draw something to the hon. Gentleman's attention. He said that the Bill's object is to deter people from using the tunnels, but the promoter hopes to have lots of money to spend on other causes. How can the Bill achieve both?

Mr. Chope: If that is the sum of the hon. Gentleman's contribution, I am sorry that he did not make a speech. That is exactly what is set out in the explanatory memorandum, and a number of us think that it contains inherent inconsistencies, including the one to which I just referred.

The Bill's promoter has provided no clarity about the objectives. It says that, on the one hand, it wants to have the power to increase tunnel charges by the rate of inflation

29 Oct 2003 : Column 378

as a matter of convenience, and it wants to be able to pay off the debt. On the other, it says that the Bill will be extremely useful in assisting the authority in implementing the Government's policies on integrated public transport facilities. But it does not say how it will pay off the enormous overhanging debt that we know to be associated with the tunnels, and surely the first objective should be to use the tolls to meet the costs of the tunnels, rather than to cross-subsidise other public transport activity.

This is a stealth tax, and it is part of the Government's congestion charging programme. The toll will be increased well beyond what is reasonable, and the tunnel users will not be able to avoid it. The cavalier way in which the Bill's promoter and sponsors have failed to respond to the debate is significant, and I hope that it will result in the sponsors losing the vote that I hope we will have on the amendment that I have tabled.

Mr. Frank Field: Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the Government Whips are in place for a coming Division, so the Government's fingerprints are all over the Bill, a tax-raising measure?

Mr. Chope: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and he does the House a service in pointing that out. There will be people on the Wirral, in his constituency of Birkenhead and elsewhere in Merseyside who find it quite enlightening to see how the Government operate.

The Government are unwilling to come forward and openly justify the Bill, but they are determined to push it through the House against the wishes of many people on Merseyside, including those who were consulted about the measure and who overwhelmingly voted against it. I hope that the amendment will be carried. If it is not carried here, I hope that it will be carried in the other place.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 209.

Division No. 345
[4:53 pm


Amess, David
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Berry, Roger
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Burns, Simon
Burt, Alistair
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Corbyn, Jeremy
Curry, rh David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Stephen
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Flight, Howard
Forth, rh Eric
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Greenway, John
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Hendry, Charles
Hesford, Stephen
Hogg, rh Douglas
Howard, rh Michael
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McDonnell, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackay, rh Andrew
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moss, Malcolm
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Pickthall, Colin
Redwood, rh John
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Ruffley, David
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Skinner, Dennis
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Steen, Anthony
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Wareing, Robert N.
Waterson, Nigel
Whittingdale, John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. John Randall and
Angela Watkinson


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Bailey, Adrian
Baker, Norman
Bayley, Hugh
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Beith, rh A. J.
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Boateng, rh Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Breed, Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Burnham, Andy
Burstow, Paul
Byers, rh Stephen
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cairns, David
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Chidgey, David
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Colman, Tony
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cotter, Brian
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Farrelly, Paul
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gilroy, Linda
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Hawkins, Nick
Healey, John
Heath, David
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Heppell, John
Hermon, Lady
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Margaret
Holmes, Paul
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hutton, rh John
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Kidney, David
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lamb, Norman
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDougall, John
McFall, John
McIsaac, Shona
McNulty, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Meale, Alan (Mansfield)
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Mountford, Kali
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
Öpik, Lembit
Organ, Diana
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Perham, Linda
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prescott, rh John
Pugh, Dr. John
Purnell, James
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Rendel, David
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spellar, rh John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Ward, Claire
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Noes:

Charlotte Atkins and
Vernon Coaker

Question accordingly negatived.

29 Oct 2003 : Column 380

Stephen Hesford: I beg to move amendment No. 33, in page 6, line 27, leave out from the beginning to the end of line 42 on page 7.

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