Select Committee on Mersey Tunnels Bills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760-771)



760. MR GEORGE: Not at all because that is under its own legislation from the 1990s which your Lordship has in the bundle, but as soon as the period of the concession comes to an end, the Secretary of State will have to decide what he is going to do. Is it to become entirely free, which is after all what the Petitioners here want, they want no tolls at all, that is what they are set up to do, or is it to have an order which says that there will be simply small tolls, just enough to pay for maintenance, repair and operating costs or will it be one which has a provision as at Dartford? I am not a gambling man and no one knows what the prevailing feeling will be in 2012 but, certainly as at present, one has a feel that the probability is that the precedent set at Dartford may well be followed. I cannot put I higher than that but that moment does ---

761. CHAIRMAN: I think the Committee understands that point, but you have clarified the point and I will not enlarge on it. Thank you very much. There are no further questions. I suggest that, at this stage of the proceedings, we will clear the room as the Committee would like to deliberate. We have every expectation that we will come to a conclusion certainly no later than 6.00 and hopefully earlier than that. We will break for ten minutes first.

The witnesses and public were asked to withdraw

and after a short time were again called in

762. CHAIRMAN: Many thanks for being so patient and apologies, we had every intention of finishing this by six o'clock and had it not been for the division I think we might have done so, but we might miss it by a couple of minutes.

763.I think you will appreciate from the time the Committee have taken that we have taken very seriously both the promotion and the petition and discussed it at very considerable length. The Committee are of the opinion that the Bill should be allowed to proceed and that the Bill will be reported to the House without amendment.

764. However, the Committee require that the Promoters should give undertakings in writing in connection with the use of two of the provisions of the Bill. These undertakings are to be agreed, I repeat, in writing between the Promoter and myself, acting on behalf of the Committee and with their agreement, and they will be subsequently printed in a special report to the House.

765.The first undertaking concerns the new section 91 to be inserted in the 1980 Act. In subsection 3(e) of that section the Committee would require an undertaking limiting the "other purposes" referred to to the three purposes outlined by Mr George in his closing speech, namely, the repayment of the £28 million MDC loan raised from the local authorities over the period 1988-1992; secondly, the carrying out of noise abatement works or the making of grants under Section 109A of the 1980 Act; and facilitating the achievement of policies proposed to be included in a local transport plan.

766.The Committee also require an undertaking in respect of Section 92 of the 1980 Act to limit the power of the Secretary of State to increase tolls above the rate of RPI. This should be exercised only in "exceptional circumstances".

767. Gentlemen, that is the opinion of the Committee. Thank you very much.

768. MR GEORGE: My Lord, I wonder if I could raise one matter in addition to the courtesy of thanking your Lordships. It is the last undertaking; we can give an undertaking that we will only apply in exceptional circumstances but it is difficult for us to give an undertaking that the Secretary of State will only do something in exceptional circumstances and, as I understand it, there should be no problem and we hope that that is directed to the matter which is of concern to your Lordships.

769. CHAIRMAN: It is and thank you, you are absolutely correct. If you would like to look at clause 92, section (1) - am now using shorthand so please do not quote me verbatim on this - your requirement is that effectively the words "at any time" should be deleted and "in exceptional circumstances" should be inserted. However, we realise that that could only be relevant to subsection (a). There was no sense in putting in exceptional circumstances in reclassification of traffic. That was not what we were intending at all; it was to do with the increase of the tolls. I rely on your expertise and that of our drafting expert to come up with wording that will cover that point. I hope that explains the situation.

770. MR GEORGE: I am grateful for that clarification and it is my understanding that there should not be any problem in giving those undertakings in the appropriate written form in the way in which your Lordships have suggested. Again, I am most grateful to the care your Lordships have given to these proceedings. You have had an awful lot of material and we are very grateful for the way it has been absorbed.

771. CHAIRMAN: The good news is it is now four minutes past six and the sun is over the yard-arm.

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