Examinations of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)
MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON, BIRCHAM
The Petition of David Loudon, John McGoldrick and
MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined
100. MR GEORGE: There is not a similar problem
of residential properties near the mouth of the tunnel.
101. CHAIRMAN: So that does not come into
consideration. Are we talking of both ends of the Wallasey Tunnel?
102. MR GEORGE: No, we are only talking
about the Wirral end. There is no residential property at the
Liverpool end. It is simply that as you get on to the Wirral,
you have quite a long approach road to the tunnel, which runs
immediately beside several estates of residential properties.
They are high up, and they look down over the tunnel and over
the open road, so it is actually noise from the approach roads
to the tunnel rather than from the tunnel itself, but the approach
roads count as being part of the tunnel, and they are private
roads, controlled by Merseytravel.
103. In summary, the Bill will do three things.
It will secure financial stability and remove the need for occasional
revision orders or local authority precepts. Financial stability
is the first matter. Secondly, it will ensure that the existing
balance of costs between public and private means of crossing
the Mersey is maintained, and thereby delay the time when the
tunnels reach saturation point. Thirdly, it will make available
funds for the improvement of public transport in Merseyside in
accordance with priorities determined through the local transport
plan and following public consultation.
104. My Lords, can I turn to two matters now affecting
the Secretary of State? The first is clause 92 of the Bill, which
reserves a power to the Secretary of State to sanction an exceptional
toll rise. It is page 19 in the bundle, it is clause 92: "If
at any time it is represented in writing to the Secretary of State
that in the circumstances then existing or in prospect all or
any of the tolls fixed should be increased by more than"
[the RPI], then he can make an order and he can order a public
inquiry if he sees fit. This is aimed at exceptional circumstances,
something wholly unforeseen whereby the tolls which you have are
simply not enough and so, using the RPI mechanism, one can make
an application and the Secretary of State will himself decide
whether it is appropriate. It is subject to a safeguard in 92(3)
that he has also to consider the financial position and future
prospects of the tunnel, matters of a transportation nature and
economic, environmental and social nature matters.
105. My Lord, there are those who say surely, if
you have the RPI, you do not need this power. It seems to us
sensible to have it as a reserve power. It is not a matter which
is going to remain in Merseytravel's say-so as to whether it is
used because the Secretary of State will have the ultimate control
over that, and it seems to us that that is appropriate.
106. The second matter about the Secretary of State
is to say that he made two reports when this Bill was before a
Committee in another place. Your Lordships will be aware that
it is Department practice to do that. On this occasion we have
been told that he feels he has made his position sufficiently
clear and it is unnecessary to have further reports, but your
Lordships will find the two reports in A18 at pages 51 and 54.
In short, the situation is that the Secretary of State is entirely
content with the Bill. He makes no criticism of it whatsoever.
But the Committee should not feel that the Secretary of State
has been supine in this matter, because he did initially raise
two matters of concern, and both his points of concern have been
met by amendments which were made in the other place. First of
all, he was concerned about a Directive, Directive 1999/62, which
relates to certain classes of heavy goods vehicle, and he wanted
to ensure that there would be compliance with that. If your Lordships
look in the Bill at clause 91(4)(a), your Lordships will find
that there is an express mention made of Directive 1999/62, which
has endlessly to be borne in mind by Merseytravel when they are
making increases. Therefore, that matter has been dealt with
expressly. At page 54 of the bundle the Secretary of State has
expressed himself as satisfied with that amendment. It is the
very bottom of page 54.
107. The second matter which the Secretary of State
was concerned about was the position when the debt had been paid
off, and he felt that at that stage there ought to be some review
before money continued to be spent on public transport as opposed
to reducing tolls. That is the matter which has been dealt with
by clause 91(5), a provision for consultation to which I have
already referred your Lordships. If one goes to page 55 in the
bundle, your Lordships will see that the Secretary of State is
satisfied. It is the last paragraph on page 55. There are therefore
no outstanding matters from the Secretary of State on the Bill.
108. Supporters now. I have already mentioned that
the Bill has the support of all the five Merseyside districts.
In so far as it is relevant, two of those are held by the Labour
party, two are hung councils and one is held by the Liberal Democrats.
That broad measure of local democratic support is, we would say,
important, and your Lordships have the letters from the authorities
and the reports in A17 at page 37, and I have referred to them.
109. The Bill was subject to widespread consultation
before it was deposited, and the document is A15. At page 15
there is the letter which went out, at page 16 there is the consultation
paper itself which went out, and the list of consultees is at
110. So far as the question of the RPI increase,
your Lordships may be interested in the voting figures. Forty-six
per cent were against and 45 per cent were in favour, the rest
not expressing a view. So opinion was remarkably equally divided
on that matter. One finds that at A16, page 33. Most of the
organisations who were consulted supported the Bill, including
the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, Liverpool Vision and the North
West Regional Assembly, and a number of trade unions support the
Bill. In your bundle at A23-24, your Lordships will find petitions
against alterations from two of the more significant unions, from
ASLEF and from UNISON, who are both firm supporters, and indeed,
I know that there is a representative of UNISON who has felt sufficiently
strongly about the matter to be present in your Lordships' committee
room today. At A22 there is a petition from Transport 2000, who
are, of course, a very experienced and campaigning transport group,
and they welcome all the provisions of the Bill. At page 87 in
paragraph 9 they particularly welcome the index linking and the
applying of surplus tolls to fund public transport projects, and
they refer to the capacity problems at the top of page 88 at the
end of paragraph 9.
111. I now turn to the Petitioners, and this is
the very last matter. There is a single petition against the
Bill, and it is in our bundle at A19. It is brought by two individuals
and an Association. I make no bones about it: we did give serious
consideration to whether to take a locus point, because in general,
individuals are not allowed to be heard, and therefore we were
particularly doubtful in the case of Mr Loudon and Mr McGoldrick,
not least because they are the Chairman and the Secretary of this
particular Association and it did not seem to us that they had
really a separate interest. My Lords, it seemed to us that, by
the time we had spent a couple of hours debating locus and so
forth, it would be better to get on and consider the merits, and
there it is. Likewise, your Lordships' House allows you to hear
a transport body. That will normally be a wide-ranging transport
body, rather than a single interest focus group, such as the Tunnel
Users' Group, who were formed particularly in relation to the
tunnel, but there it is; they are here, and we are not taking
a point, and your Lordships will make of their case what you will.
112. Turning to the petition, my Lords, could I
first of all draw your attention to paragraph 5 of the petition,
where your Lordships will see the three aims of the Tunnel Users'
Group. So far as aims 2 and 3, those are matters entirely outwith
the scope of the Bill and your Lordships' consideration, because
Merseytravel is charged with running these tunnels, and we have
no way of converting them into part of the normal road network,
and likewise, they would prefer them to be run by a new organisation
rather than ourselves. Parliament has entrusted us with the power,
and that remains with us until there is some legislative change.So
far as item 1, your Lordships see what their real concern is:
that they want their money solely used for the tunnels and not
spent on other purposes.
113. My Lord, there used to be a convention that
at this stage counsel read out the entirety of the petition.
I hope your Lordships feel that is unnecessary. It is a fairly
short petition and I anticipate that your Lordships will probably
have had a chance already to see it. What I propose to do is
merely to highlight what seem to me to be the main matters in
it, with crossreference to the paragraphs, and give you
a one-sentence response to the points. I hope that will be sufficient,
but if your Lordships would like me to read the entire petition,
of course I will do so.
114. CHAIRMAN: We are greatly relieved,
115. MR GEORGE: My Lord, it seemed to us
that the Petition, really, is under four heads. If I simply deal
with the four headings and group together some of the paragraphs.
The first point which is made is that there is no justification
for the Bill. Under that main heading, as it seems to us, the
Petitioners make four sub-points, and it is to those four sub-points
which I now turn.
116. First of all, they say that the present system
works well and fairly (that is their paragraph 9) and that, therefore,
there is no need for change. My Lord, we doubt that the present
system does work well. It seems to us that if one looks at what
happened in the 1980s and 1990s it is quite apparent that the
present system did not work well and that it is appropriate to
follow the Severn and Dartford precedents and introduce the RPI
117. Their second sub-head is to say that it is
highly unlikely that recourse will ever have to be made to the
district councils as between 1988 and 1992. On that they may
be right; we hope it will not ever be necessary to go back to
the district councils, but unless the system is changed there
will remain that risk. That is their paragraph 11. The fact
that the local authorities concerned support the Bill is an indication
that they think that it is necessary to prevent there having to
be a fallback on them in the future.
118. Their third sub-head is to say that the safety
and other works proposed are either not essential or not cost-effective
or they should be financed differently. There, my lords, we simply
do not know what works they say are unnecessary. It seems to
us that all the works on which we are presently engaged or about
to be engaged are essential works and they will be done at the
proper price for the works.
119. Then the last sub-head under "No Justification
for the Bill", is that they say that it is not necessary
to raise tolls to manage demand. One finds this in their paragraphs
8, 13 and 15. They say that demand for the tunnels is largely
inelastic. I shall be calling evidence both from Mr Wilkinson
and Mr Bates on this matter. It seems to us to be self-evident
that there are constraints on the capacity of the tunnels and
that unless the tolls are raised in line with public transport
costs that capacity will be reached earlier than otherwise.