Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620-639)
MR CHARLES GEORGE QC and MISS JOANNA CLAYTON.
BIRCHAM DYSON BELL and MR JOHN McGOLDRICK examined
620. May I ask you one last question since you yourself
have a hospital appointment. Is it not the case in the Commons
that the backing for the Bill in certain quarters and the fact
that all the petitions were withdrawn in the Commons unfortunately
meant that to a certain extent you and all the other Wirral MPs
who were opposing the Bill had your hands tied and in fact all
you could do was propose an amendment to the Bill?
(Mr Field) That
is certainly true but it is also, I am sure my Lord Chairman,
unlike in your House, you will not need any reminding that the
payroll vote of 100 was out that evening and, even so, the Bill
only just scraped through.
621. MR McGOLDRICK: Thank you, Mr Field.
Examined by THE COMMITTEE
622. CHAIRMAN: Mr Field, could I ask my colleagues
whether they have any questions of you and I have one, if I may.
You have made it clear to us that you are not against an RPI
increase so you are in favour of an inflation link but you have
strong objections to excess - those are my words not yours -
monies being used for other purposes. What would your reaction
be, and I am hypothetical at this stage, if the Committee were
to recommend, let us say, exactly what you want such that the
debt is paid off but then the tolls continue and those monies
are then used for other transport purposes. What would your view
be to that?
(Mr Field) I
would welcome the first part of your sentence, my Lord, I would
not be happy with the second part.
623. And why not?
(Mr Field) Because
the main objection that I am trying to put before this Committee
is that if the Bill goes through even as you suggest, my Lord,
it will at that stage when the debt is repaid become a taxation
matter and not a taxation matter which is spread fairly throughout
Merseyside for the benefit of Merseyside but is borne indiscriminately
by those people who have to use the tunnel and I think that is
unfair. Whilst in the short run governments always get away with
things being unfair, in the longer run I do not think you can
run a society when people's gut feeling is that it is a form of
taxation that is basically unfair.
624. BARONESS McINTOSH OF HUDNALL: Do you
see any possible disbenefits to your constituents from tolls being
removed in the long term. I understand that to be your objection,
that the tolls gradually be reduced as the debt is reduced and
ultimately removed altogether can you see any active disadvantages
to your constituency from that happening.
(Mr Field) There
is only one scenario where that could be true, and one would love
it to be true that was there was such a revival in our area that
instead of losing people year after year we actually gained people,
and therefore the experience I had of somebody pointing out to
me what they called rush hour which lasted all of five minutes
was taken in the way that we talk about rush hour in London.
If we were in an area where the economy was incredibly vibrant
and we were attracting people and retaining people then maybe
there could be a case for saying that the charge should be used
to ration the use of the motor car and particularly the use of
the tunnels rather than using the motorways, but, sadly, we are
not in that scenario.
625. LADY SALTOUN OF ABERNETHY: Mr Field,
would I be right in thinking that you would like the tolls eventually
to disappear so that the maintenance of the tunnels fell on the
(Mr Field) No,
I do not. I would like the tolls reduced when the debt is repaid
and the insulation in Wallasey has taken place, but clearly there
is always going to be a maintenance bill and as the tunnels get
older that maintenance bill is going to rise but that is different
from the previous transport authority signing up to long-term
loans at mega-rates of interest which it is wonderful if you are
the bond holder, it is not so wonderful if you are paying the
bond and therefore the financing of Mersey Tunnels will be radically
transformed once the debt is repaid and huge interest charges
are no longer a charge on our constituents.
626. One other question, did I understand or was
I mistaken in thinking that you would not perhaps have objected
to the profits from the tolls being applied to other transport
use provided that it was applied only in the Wirral and Liverpool
or was I wrong?
(Mr Field) No,
you were not wrong but I did try and present that there are certain
weaknesses of having a generous nature, and that is when you are
trying to get a Bill through you do not realise that the other
side might use what you are trying to suggest as a compromise
to help them off what I believe is a silly hook on which they
place themselves that they would then throw that back in one's
face. I was suggesting that as a compromise. It was rejected.
Let me put no adjective into how it was rejected and therefore
the proposal fell.
627. LORD BRADSHAW: First of all, do you
accept that the RPI measure of inflation is both below the average
earnings level and below indices of construction costs as have
been presented to us, in fact significantly below?
(Mr Field) I
cannot advise the Committee on the second part of that question
but there are very short periods if you take century upon century
when price rises have not been below the earnings level. Anybody
who is a pensioner actually knows, my Lord, what happens to their
628. What I had in mind was that because the money
that Mersey Tunnels generates has to be spent on labour and construction
and safety costs the RPI measure is bound to be below the cost
levels which the passenger transport authority will face and therefore
does in itself become a measure of efficiency because they can
only look forward to increases that are going to be below those
(Mr Field) That
is true but again it is only a partial truth in that if those
people wishing to win the contracts also know that Merseytravel
has got real backbone and does not have public money simply to
give away in contracts, then it might strike a harder bargain
and I am sure members of the Committee have been told by Merseytravel
that this is their second attempt at a Bill and in their first
attempt they were so lacking in confidence in managing this whole
operation they wished to privatise it. It is that background
of people who thought they were not up to the job who wanted to
hand over tough decisions to an outside body which is now seeking
a signed cheque without the sums put in, and I think that is actually
629. The second thing I wish to ask you is do you
accept that the existing tunnels at present toll levels are reaching
near capacity at peak times?
(Mr Field) Again,
my Lord Chairman, I have two pair of eyes, I have London eyes
and Birkenhead eyes. When I was driven through the tunnel last
Friday morning and we had to wait all of about three minutes to
get out of the tunnel the person driving me thought this was appalling
whereas in London one often used to have to wait an hour. I thought
the journey was incredibly speedy; my driver she thought it was
incredibly long, so it depends in a way from which end of the
tunnel one is looking at it.
630. Yes, if you accept that there will be congestion,
albeit lower than that experienced in London, other than building
another tunnel, which no doubt will cause us to go through the
cycle again of raising a lot of money and then servicing debt
so we get back to the same treadmill again although we are probably
ratcheting it up, are there any other measures, any other ways
you can suggest the volume of traffic wishing to reach central
Liverpool can be controlled?
(Mr Field) No,
although we do have a motorway around. I do believe that the
question is somewhat misplaced in that even if we take Lady McIntosh's
view that we have this wonderful scenario of an increase in population,
I do not believe that the tunnel traffic is going to rise in the
sorts of proportions that is being suggested. If you look at
my constituency most new jobs are not in Liverpool, they are in
North Wales, so a sensible government for example would have the
Employment Service run from North Wales where they are looking
for workers, it would not have it run from Liverpool, and even
if we have a revival of trade in Liverpool increasingly people
could be going elsewhere to work and sadly will not be going down
the tunnel and coming out the other side thinking there are jobs
there. We do have to look at the long-term future of where jobs
are moving and where jobs have already moved to before we accept
too easily the suggestion which Merseytravel has that somehow
there are going to be these mega-blockages in the tunnel unless
we can choke that off with price rises. There is a second issue
and that is it sensible for a small country to keep building roads
which keep filling up with cars? Part of the discipline may be
that if we seek other forms of transport that it does take a
bit longer if we wish to use our car.
631. LORD BROOKMAN: Mr Field, central to
your opening comments was the fact that it was your constituents,
and yes you have been a doughty fighter all your life, 25 years,
you have just said, and central to your point of view is your
constituents, and it is a tax only on them some years down the
road. The sort of question I want to put to you is do you not
think this initiative will be for the greater good of Merseyside
in the round? You end up with better buses, better infrastructure,
better this, better that. Yet you do not seem to appear to look
at it in that form. You look at it as a constituency MP, it is
your people, they elect you, you do the job but what about this
greater view that it is better for the region as a whole?
(Mr Field) The
greater view I think ought to be paid by the greater number and
my constituents should not be discriminated against in this manner.
I hope we could move to the picture that you paint. Clearly
as we know from a Government which has massively increased public
expenditure without quite all the results we hoped to see already,
spending more money does not necessarily improve the services
in a commensurate way. That is why I made the plea about you
keeping permanently Merseytravel on the leash and not giving them
the right just to raise money without making sure they spend it
each year more efficiently.
632. CHAIRMAN: No further questions? Thank
you very much and I hope all goes well on your next call.
(Mr Field) Thank
The Witness withdrew
633. CHAIRMAN: Mr McGoldrick, do you now
wish to make a statement?
634. MR McGOLDRICK: Can we now give out
the papers. (Same handed round)
635. CHAIRMAN: I think we are ready for another
636. LORD BROOKMAN: You have got to take
all this back with you mind.
637. CHAIRMAN: It is significantly less voluminous
than the Promoter's.
638. MR McGOLDRICK: We cannot afford the
paper, my Lord. My Lord, what I was proposing to do was firstly
to very quickly go through the Petition to outline the main points
and then hopefully fairly quickly to go through the submission
and then just make one or two points at the end.
639. On the Petition at point 5 basically we are
saying who the petitioners are, which is primarily the Mersey
Tunnel Users' Association which has been a very small group.
At the time that we made the Petition we were only just over 200
members. We are now just over 4,600 members. The group was originally
formed about a year ago to oppose the Mersey Tunnel's Revision
of Tolls Order which, as your Lordships will have heard, has in
fact subsequently been withdrawn.