Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence


Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON, BIRCHAM DYSON BELL.

The Petition of David Loudon, John McGoldrick and MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined

1. CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen, good morning. You are at an advantage over the members of the Committee in that our names are in front of us and your names are not. I think it would be helpful if perhaps Mr George would identify himself.

2. MR GEORGE: I am Charles George and this is Joanna Clayton on my left who is appearing with me. Sir, in due course, I am going to be calling as two witnesses Mr Wilkinson, the Director of Resources who is sitting there and, in the back row, Mr Phil Bates from Steer Davies Gleave.

3. CHAIRMAN: Would the Petitioners identify themselves.

4. MR McGOLDRICK: I am John McGoldrick; I am the agent for the Petitioners and a Petitioner. This is David Louden who is also a Petitioner and this is Brian Kendall who may also be speaking. We intend at this stage to just call one witness who is Frank Field MP.

5. CHAIRMAN: Mr McGoldrick, you are both a Petitioner and an Agent?

6. MR McGOLDRICK: Yes.

7. CHAIRMAN: You are wearing a double hat. I do not intend to introduce the members of the Committee because our names are in front of us. Firstly, we have two bits of housekeeping. One on timings. I am advised that such committees sit normally from 10.30 until 4.00 with a one hour break for lunch. I have already established that that is suitable for the members of the Committee and may I take it that that is suitable for the Promoters and Petitioners? (Agreed)

8. Secondly, the overall timing. The last thing, as Chairman, that I want to do is to truncate any discussion but could I lead you as gently as possible that it would be very convenient if we were to finish by the end of tomorrow. One of the reasons for saying that is that one member of the Committee would have difficulty on Wednesday morning and the second member of the Committee would have difficulty from Wednesday midday-ish onwards. So, it is desirable, not essential, that we try and finish by tomorrow night. I merely put that as guidance.

9. No member of the Committee has any interest in the Bill or any interest to declare in the Bill. I hope that is acceptable to both parties. (Agreed) I understand, Mr George, that there is no question of challenging the locus standi, is that right?

10. MR GEORGE: That is correct.

11. CHAIRMAN: I think that is the total of my housekeeping points. Mr George, would you like to present the case for the promoters.

12. MR GEORGE: Your Lordships should have a bundle of documents entitled, "A: General Exhibits for the House of Lords Select Committee" and, in the course of my opening, I will be referring to some of those documents and, when I call my two witnesses, they will be producing some further exhibits and I can indicate to your Lordships that we have supplied all the exhibits to the Petitioners last week, so they have seen all this documentation in advance.

13. CHAIRMAN: I am sorry, I am interrupting already and this is something I am urging members of the Committee not to do. Could I just have confirmation from the Petitioners that that is so.

14. MR McGOLDRICK: That is correct.

15. MR GEORGE: My Lords, if I turn first to the Promoters, the Promoters are the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority and, as your Lordships are probably aware, passenger transport authorities consist of elected local authority members and they operate through officers who make up the passenger transport executive and, in Merseyside, both the PTA, that is the authority, and the PTE, the executive, operate under the collective name of Merseytravel. So, when one speaks of Merseytravel that is the name I shall use for the promoters.

16. There are of course five local authority areas on Merseyside and if I could just refer your Lordships to A2 in the bundle, your Lordships will be able to see Sefton to the north and St Helens and Knowsley to the East. The focus of this Bill is on the remaining two districts, the Liverpool City area and the Wirral, separated as they are by the mouth of the River Mersey.

17. The PTA consists of 18 elected councillors who are nominated annually by the five district councils in accordance with the proportion of Merseyside's population that they represent and we regard it as important that the PTA is a democratically elected body because control over all its decisions lies in the hands of the councillors from the five elected local authorities. When this Bill was on the floor of your Lordships' House at Second Reading, concern was expressed as to whether the Bill adequately provided for the views of the five local authorities to be taken into account. My Lords, we simply say that the PTA is itself representative of the five local authorities. In its way, it is simply a manifestation of those five local authorities and the local authorities have total control over the PTA's decisions. The accounts of the authority are all subject to district audit and, each year, the district auditor has to look at those accounts and provide a certificate. There is a procedure for objections and the situation is that, for the last years, there have been unqualified accounts.

18. My Lords, since this Bill seeks to make available and use some of the surplus tolls for public transport purposes, it is right that I remind you of Merseytravel's statutory obligation. Its obligation is to secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as the authority considers it appropriate for the Executive to secure for meeting any public transport requirements within the area which would not be met apart from any action taken for that purpose. That is all set out in section 9(A)(3) of the Transport Act 1968. So that Merseytravel is a public transport body.

19. This Bill of course is concerned with the two Mersey tunnels and if I could ask your Lordships to turn to A3, your Lordships will see the two tunnels. The older is that to the south which is the Birkenhead tunnel, what is sometimes called the Queensway tunnel. The more recent tunnel is the Wallasey tunnel which is sometimes called the Kingsway tunnel because that is what Queen Elizabeth named it when it was opened. These two tunnels fit rather oddly into the authority's statutory responsibilities, ownership having been passed to them in 1986 from the County Council of Merseyside, along with all the tunnels' debts at the time when the metropolitan county councils were abolished in 1986. The tunnels are not the authority's sole responsibility in relation to crossing the River Mersey since the authority also owns and operates the Mersey ferries.


 
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