Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 620-639)



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not the case in the Commons that the backing for the Bill in certain quarters and the fact that all the petitions were withdrawn in the Commons unfortunately meant that to a certain extent you and all the other Wirral MPs who were opposing the Bill had your hands tied and in fact all you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.


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 local authority?

(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 pension.

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 costs?

(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 wrong.

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 you.

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 tonne.

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.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004