Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)



340. CHAIRMAN: Mr George?

341. MR GEORGE: I do not want to say anything more about that, my Lord. That is my submission and there is the law. The law may need changing and some may feel it is unsatisfactory, but that is the law and that is the law which I invite the Committee to respect.

342. CHAIRMAN: Any comments from my colleagues? No. Please carry on.

343. MR GEORGE:While I am on my feet, the transcript writers have done an absolutely excellent job of work. Inevitably, there are a few corrections. My Lord, in the old days one used to take a lot of time reading them, but can I simply suggest that we will put them on a piece of paper and circulate it to Mr McGoldrick and hand it to the Committee and to the transcript writer, which is the various minor corrections which we have spotted in the transcript and then in case anyone at a later stage seeks to rely on the transcript, they will have a version which the parties have agreed on, a corrected version.

344. CHAIRMAN: That is very helpful, thank you.

345. MR GEORGE: My Lord, there is only one matter which I think I perhaps ought to draw attention to. It is page 48 at paragraph 284. In the third line, Mr Wilkinson answers and he says, "My Lords, the powers sought in the Bill will have a doubling effect", and it should be a "double effect" when one reads on. I simply mention it because I would not want it thought that we are suggesting that the Bill is going to double traffic levels, so it should be the "double effect" rather than "a doubling effect". As I say, there are other matters, but I do not think I am going to take the time of the Committee with any of the other changes, and in that everyone has been encouraged to speak up today, I am sure we will do even better tomorrow.

346. Can I also apologise that my junior, who is Joanna Clayton and who is recorded as Amanda Clayton on page 1, is not here this morning. I hope she will be joining us again later on this afternoon and I apologise for her absence.

347. CHAIRMAN: Mr George, you have sent a warning shot across our bows on that, which did not go too well to my ears, about tomorrow.

348. MR GEORGE: I said "this afternoon". I said I hope that she would appear "this afternoon"

349. CHAIRMAN: I thought you said before that something about tomorrow.

350. MR GEORGE: Well, let's hope not.My Lord, the other matter is that I handed your Lordships the Noise Insulation Regulations yesterday. I do not expect that the Committee have had time to examine them in any great detail. There is one matter which I perhaps ought to have drawn attention to yesterday. It is Article 7(1) of the Noise Insulation Regulations which specify a maximum distance away from the highway of 300 metres. Your Lordships will recall that I handed in a copy of the Noise Insulation Regulations and 7(1) sets a 300-metre limit, although that limit can be exceeded under Article 4(4) where one has got a case of a terrace. If you have got contiguous façades, you can go just over the 300 metres. As I indicated yesterday, we are going to apply the Regulations. These properties are going to be as if the Noise Insulation Regulations applied and, therefore, there will be a cut-off at that point in accordance with the Noise Insulation Regulations. I doubt there will be any property at the very edge, but I felt that possibly what I said yesterday was misleading, that I had not drawn your Lordships' attention to that 300-metre cut-off, which is in the Noise Insulation Regulations.

351. CHAIRMAN: Noted, thank you.

352. MR GEORGE: It is Schedule 2 of the Bill which in clause 109A(4) provides that the Noise Insulation Regulations are to apply unless inappropriate in all the circumstances.

353. CHAIRMAN: Now, Mr McGoldrick, would you like to carry on with your cross-examination?


Cross-examination by MR McGOLDRICK, continued

354. MR McGOLDRICK: Thank you, my Lord. Yesterday we were looking at Table 20 on page 73. We touched yesterday on the question of the acceleration of the debt. One further question in relation to that is that when it was decided to accelerate the debt redemption, why was it not the debt, which is described as MDC's, which was accelerated?

(Mr Wilkinson) My Lord, the process, which I thought I had described, was that rather than actually repay any lender and incur interest penalties, I reallocated debt between the Mersey tunnels and the public transport functions of Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority. Now, the debt due to Merseyside district councils was very specifically entirely and solely for Mersey tunnels. The debt owed to the Public Works Loans Board is for a mixture of purposes. It was, therefore, thought, I felt, that it would be more appropriate to use this reshuffling of debt only for Public Works Lands Board's debts.

355. But is not the MDC's debt in fact an internal transaction within the Authority and, therefore, it is assumed would be the easiest one to change and in the interests of the tunnels, it carries a 9 percent interest rate, the one which would be most beneficial to the tunnels as well as to Merseytravel?

(Mr Wilkinson) My Lord, I did try and explain yesterday the workings of the Government restriction, known as the minimum provision. I did try to set out in paragraph 4(3) of this exhibit the reasons for benefit to council tax payers by adopting this methodology.That benefit would not accrue had I to reallocate debt due to Merseyside district councils because the minimum revenue provision simply does not apply to that tranche of debt.

356. But that is something which would not be of either benefit or disbenefit to the tunnels. What you are doing is basically of benefit to Merseytravel and not the tunnels?

(Mr Wilkinson) My Lord, I reject that point. My aim was to provide benefit to Mersey tunnels by accelerating the repayment of the debt. I do not think it matters quite frankly which tranche of debt was accelerated in terms of its redemption. The point was that the Mersey tunnels benefited by having a lower level of debt owed by them by means of this transaction.

357. But would they not have benefited even more if it was the 9 per cent debt which was cancelled rather than the 4 per cent debt?

(Mr Wilkinson) In theory, my Lord, that is the case. There would have been a marginal difference in the debt charges, but there would have been no benefit whatsoever to the council tax payers of Merseyside.

358. I was speaking on the basis of the benefit of the tunnels. Can I turn to another point given on the same Schedule. One of the points which was made yesterday in relation to the Bill, clause 91(3)(e), which is page 106, at the bottom of the page, one of the purposes that is authorised by the Bill for the use of tolls is, "in making payments to the Authority's general fund for the purpose of directly or indirectly facilitating the achievement of policies relating to public transport in its local transport plan, or for other purposes". If I understood what was said correctly, it was stated that that phrase, "or for other purposes", was there so that the payments which were being made in relation to this MDC debt would be legal. Did I misunderstand that?

(Mr Wilkinson) My Lord, that is, quite correctly, what was said yesterday. Effectively the debt being referred to is not specifically covered in section 91 (3)(b) but is covered in section 91(3)(e) of the Bill.

359. Does that not imply that at the moment the authority may be acting illegally if it requires to add this provision into the Bill that is not in the present Act?

(Mr Wilkinson) I do not believe, my Lord, that that is an inference that can be drawn. In seeking advice on the drafting of the Bill I felt that we needed those words inserted to make it absolutely clear of the basis for making repayment to the district councils for this debt.

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