HC Deb 04 March 1966 vol 725 cc1654-64

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Tay Road Bridge (Scheme) Approval Order, 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.—[Mr. Harper.]

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

It is exceedingly strange that there is no Minister from the Scottish Office here to sponsor the Order. I presume that the Order has been moved by another Minister, perhaps by the Assistant Whip, the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Harper) and I hope that I am thus in order in speaking to this matter. I am sorry that there is no Scottish Minister here to listen to my remarks, because this is a most important Order for Scotland, particularly for the north-east of Scotland. The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), the only hon. Member now on the Government back benches, does not represent a Scottish constituency, but I know that he is a Scot and will appreciate that this is a very important Order for Scotland.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

I know the Tay Bridge very well, so if I can be of any assistance I shall be glad to help.

Mr. Campbell

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we deplore the fact that there is no Minister from the Scottish Office here to give explanations on the points I wish to raise. I see that the Under-Secretary has at last arrived. I am glad that I have been able to prolong my opening remarks to this moment. I now wish to put some questions to him about the Order.

I note that the Scheme has been agreed by the councils concerned on the basis that they will contribute 25 per cent. to any extra borrowing and the Secretary of State will contribute 75 per cent. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us more about the need for the extra borrowing? The Order and the Explanatory Note indicate that the original expenditure of £4 million on the bridge has had to be extended to £6 million, and the Order seeks approval for borrowing powers for up to £6½ million.

The reasons are given as, first, rising costs. That is well understood, given the tremendous rise in costs during the past year or so. Another reason given is additional works. I presume from this that there has been a need for extra buildings, or that it has been decided to build some extra works connected with the bridge. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would tell us about the additional works which are foreseen and which necessitate the extra borrowing.

Most of the first page of the Schedule deals with the method of borrowing. A very significant part of the Schedule is paragraph 7, which seeks to vary the purposes for which the revenue received from tolls will be used. The whole question of tolls on the bridge is related to the probable date of the bridge's opening. Can the hon. Gentleman give us either a definite or an estimated date of opening? The 1962 Order, which provides for tolls, stipulates that within 12 months of the expected date of opening of the bridge a scheme should be prepared on tolls and that the scheme should be put to the Secretary of State for approval.

The scheme itself does not appear in the Order, but some figures have been published which indicate that the tolls for motor cars would be 2s. 6d. but that there would be a rising tariff and that for most commercial vehicles the toll would be as much as 10s. The information which has appeared in the Press has indicated that for vehicles over a certain weight—quite a low weight—the toll would be 10s., which is a large sum. Under Section 87(3) of the 1962 Order, the Secretary of State may approve a scheme put forward to him. What is the present position? Has the scheme, as one would imagine from the Press reports, yet been put to the Secretary of State? Has he himself approved it or modified it?

If the Press reports are correct, will the hon. Gentleman explain why tolls rising from 2s. 6d. to 10s. have been decided upon? We know the Labour Party's position on tolls in general. We certainly know what the Labour Party's position was before the last election. In "Signposts for Scotland", which appeared before the last election, the Labour Party said this on page 10: The Government's projected imposition of tolls to finance the building of the Forth road bridge, to be followed by the Tay and Erskine bridges, is indefensible… On page 11 the Labour Party said this: Tolls must, therefore, in the first instance be abolished wherever their imposition is likely to prove a handicap to plans for industrial expansion. If it is correct that most commercial vehicles crossing the Tay Bridge will have to pay a toll of 10s., would the Under-Secretary think that this is likely to prove a handicap to industrial development? Many people in Scotland will have anxieties about whether it will be a handicap. I will give a few examples. Suppliers of goods from Fife to Dundee will have to pay a 10s. toll per commercial vehicle, whether they supply market garden produce for the city or supplies for industry there. The question of the amount of tolls is an important matter, not only for Dundee, but also for Aberdeen and the whole of the northeast of Scotland. Why should it be necessary to have a schedule of different tolls and not a flat rate toll of 2s. 6d. like that on the Forth Bridge?

Paragraph 7 of the Schedule, in setting out the variations of the purposes and priorities on which the money raised from tolls can be spent, has a new sub-paragraph (i). This takes into account the extra borrowing, and the repayment made necessary by that, under the Order. There are also other variations in paragraph 7 of the purposes and priorities in the 1962 Order. What is the purpose and expected effect of the other variations which are being made? The effect of sub-paragraph (i) is obvious.

I am glad that, although the Under-Secretary was not here at the beginning, he was here in time to hear all the points I wished to make, and I hope that he will be able to answer them.

11.30 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for moving the Order formally. I am also deeply obliged to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) for responding as he has done. I am glad that I was lucky enough to hear all his points—points that I suspected would be raised anyway in the form in which he has raised them. He made one or two comments which I am not sure were strictly in order, but since they have been allowed by you, Mr. Speaker, I presume that I shall be permitted to comment on them.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Chair will decide whether comments are strictly in order or not.

Dr. Mabon

Yes, I recognise that, Sir. I hope that I shall be able to comment on those points without getting into trouble with you, Sir, which I do not wish to do.

The purpose of the Order, as the hon. Gentleman has recognised, is to deal with the situation that has arisen as a result of developments that have taken place in the construction of the Tay Road Bridge. This Order is required because the cost of constructing the bridge has risen since 1962 when Parliament made an Order covering a capital cost of £4½ million. The 1962 Order provided that any excess expenditure should be defrayed by means of a scheme agreed by the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board and its three constituent local authorities—Dundee Town Council, Fife County Council and the Angus County Council—and approved by the Secretary of State.

The increased expenditure has resulted partly from additional works. I think the hon. Gentleman recognised that there must be some element of rising costs here since 1962, these years not having been particularly good so far as the position on wages is concerned. The increase is not entirely due to what happened in 1965. If I give an example of the sort of costs that have increased, the hon. Gentleman will see that the largest part relates to changes or additions to the original construction and design.

For example, in 1962 the estimates on land were £150,000 as against the £200,000 as it now stands. The cost of levelling and laying out of the land is the same, but the main bridge and the northern approach cost has risen from £3.671 million to £3.810 million. The Fife approaches have involved us in a little more expenditure, and, instead of £350,000, the cost is £630,000—not quite double but getting close to it.

There is the element of compensation to the ferry operators, which was not in the original estimate, of £260,000. There are small items such as toll equipment and the administrative building, all adding up to about £180,000. This is the reason why the estimated figure in the 1962 Order of £4,386,000 has gone up to £5,333,000. I hope that answers in detail the points that the hon. Gentleman made about the difference in the price. It has been due not to rising costs as such but largely to the additional works which have been agreed upon.

The Joint Board, naturally, acting with the full knowledge of the Government, considered that it would be prudent to make a scheme providing for a possible capital expenditure of up to £6½ million. The scheme has been agreed between the Joint Board and the local authorities and submitted for the Secretary of State's approval by means of this Order.

As the hon. Gentleman said, Section 76 of the 1962 Order laid down that the draft Order must be approved by Resolution of each House of Parliament, and I hope the House will agree to this. If the hon. Gentleman, in asking a number of questions, is anxious about the reasons for the Order being as it is, he will see that the Government have been generous in seeking to help the Joint Board. It is true that we have perhaps not gone as far as we would have liked, but I think we have gone much farther than I suspect the previous Government would in this regard. However, that is a matter for argument. All I would say is that the Joint Board has been very happy to accept the allocation of cost which I have explained.

The local authorities' share of the capital cost of £5,333,000 is £3,208,250, of which £425,750 interest will be deferred by the estimated date of the opening of the bridge, which I hope will be in August. There are other factors which could influence this, but the hope is that it will be in August. This interest must, under the 1962 Order, be added to the capital debt making the local authorities' share £3,634,000. The Exchequer's share of the capital cost is £2,124,750 on which £133,250 interest will be due when the bridge opens. Only £5,250 of this interest is, however, to be capitalised, making the Exchequer debt £2,130,000 and deferred interest £128,000. The total debt to be met at the opening of the bridge is likely to be £5,892,000.

That is about as much detailed information as I can give the hon. Gentleman. I am going as far as I can in explaining this matter. He will see that there has clearly been a division of responsibility as a result of the rising costs. We do not want to get involved too much in interest on interest and such other matters of capitalisation. This is, I think, a very generous gesture on the part of the Government to try to help the local authorities in this way in ensuring that the burden of increased costs does not fall completely on them.

The other matter with which I can deal is tolls. All that the hon. Gentleman has said on this point has been said before. I cannot discuss in detail the toll tariff. I am not responsible for the newspapers and for what they say. I am certainly not going to comment on anything that the newspapers have alleged is in the submission that the Joint Board has made to the Secretary of State—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present—

11.38 a.m.

Dr. Mabon

As I was saying, the hon. Gentleman raised a number of points about tolls. The Secretary of State is not responsible for what appears in the newspapers and for what is alleged to be in the submission of the Joint Board.

Mr. G. Campbell

I raised the matter in order to obtain confirmation from the Under-Secretary that the Joint Board has made a submission. The hon. Gentleman now says that it is confidential at this stage. I wanted to know what the position was, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said.

Dr. Mabon

The hon. Gentleman must be fair. He proceeded to argue a case about tolls, the level of tolls and how they would effect the matter if there were a certain figure involved. I hoped that we would not be discussing this point, but now that we are, we have to make clear what is the position of the Government. Under Section 89 of the Tay Road Bridge Order Confirmation Act, 1962, the procedure is that the Joint Board submits a proposed schedule to the Secretary of State. That has recently been done. This schedule, after the Secretary of State has considered it, is to be published. As the Act says, it is to be published in the Edinburgh Gazette and in such one or more newspapers as the Secretary of State may specify. As the hon. Gentleman knows, under Section 89(3) of the Tay Road Bridge Order Confirmation Act, 1962, the Secretary of State has to do certain things once that has been published. The decision will be shortly taken about publishing it, but there are indications already that there are certain points which have been drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State, not necessarily by the Joint Board, which may necessitate my right hon. Friend assuming his statutory position. It may involve a local inquiry. I do not know this yet. It remains to be seen. It depends on how the objectors respond during the discussions between the various parties once the Secretary of State has taken the step of publication.

Clearly it would be wrong for me to be dragged into discussion here about the merits of this or that with reference to tariffs for commercial lorries or private vehicles. I hope that I shall not be obliged to answer further on those lines if there is further debate. I must, however, respond on the question of the principle of tolls. The figures of industrial development in Fife are remarkably good. Last year has been a good year for Fife and this February shows one of the best figures for employment in Fife over the last ten years. Clearly therefore the incidence of bridge tolls at this stage—and I grant that it is possible that circumstances could alter—cannot be seriously alleged to be inhibiting economic development. What would be the position of my right hon. Friend if it were to do so, remains to be seen.

The Secretary of State is statute bound to discuss these matters with the Forth Road Bridge authority. Similarly he is at this stage going through the correct procedure as laid down in the Confirmation Act in connection with the Tay Bridge tolls.

Mr. G. Campbell

The hon. Gentleman is talking about the Forth Bridge toll which is a flat rate of 2s. 6d.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss the Forth Road Bridge. We are on the Tay Bridge.

Dr. Mabon

The only point that I was making was that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn dragged me into this in relation to the comparison between the Forth and Tay Road Bridges in the matter of tolls. These discussions are going on in the correct way and it would not be right for me to anticipate what attitude the Secretary of State will take in the light of representations being made to him, and which no doubt will be made, when he publishes the schedule in the Edinburgh Gazette and other selected newspapers. I think that for this purpose I have covered all the questions that have been asked me.

Mr. G. Campbell

Will the hon. Gentleman answer my last question about the variations of the purposes which appear in paragraph 7 of the new Order? There is a new sub-paragraph (i) which is straightforward but there are other variations there and I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be able to tell us the purpose of the other variations. I realise that perhaps this may be too short notice, but that was my other question.

Dr. Mabon

I think that I covered that when I described the apportionment of the responsibility regarding the increased interest total which there would be as a consequence of seeking permission to borrow more money. We are not having complete interest on interest in relation to the total. The Government are sharing one part and the Joint Board the other part. This is the result of discussions which the Secretary of State commissioned me to have with the Joint Board. They were very amicable discussions and we came to this conclusion. I admit that that was not all that the Joint Board would want, but it is as much as my right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Government could provide in the circumstances. It was welcome as such, and I am glad to know that our relations with the Joint Board are as cordial as ever.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave the impression that the Secretary of State would listen to representations before he decided on the level of tolls—not whether there should be tolls—on the Tay Bridge. We hope that the bridge will link with the Forth Bridge to provide a trunk road system for the whole of the east of Scotland, and it seems to me quite ludicrous that the Government should seek to create virtually the whole of Scotland into a development area and at the same time seek to impose quite heavy tolls on the two links in the trunk road up the east side of Scotland.

I hope that if he cannot be convinced now of getting rid of tolls altogether, the Secretary of State will be consistent in the application of a tolls policy by putting tolls on the Tay Bridge comparable with those on the Forth Bridge. It would be absurd if one were four times the other, as seems likely at the moment.

I should like my hon. Friend to give an undertaking that his right hon. Friend's mind is not closed to the possibility of eventually getting rid of tolls in the event of the development of Fife, which he quite rightly says has gone forward up to now with reasonable speed, proving in the end not to be going as fast as we would like. My hon. Friend talked about development last year, but in the current year there will be expedited pit closures which will jeopardise the position somewhat. At the moment there do not seem to be enough jobs in prospect to take all the miners who may be made redundant. I hope that the Secretary of State will bear that in mind when making the decision not only about the Tay Bridge but on toll policy in general.

11.47 a.m.

Dr. Mabon

These are very reasonable comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). All I can say to him on the actual procedure is that he will see that under Section 89(3) there is every opportunity for any person concerned to make representations about the tariff of tolls proposed.

Once it is published in the newspapers, subsection (3) becomes operative in that the Secretary of State, before exercising his powers under Section 87(3), or making an Order under Section 88 shall, if requested to do so in writing by the Joint Board, or by any of the Councils, or by any body who made objection as aforesaid, and has not withdrawn such objection, and in any other case if he thinks it necessary or desirable, cause a local inquiry to be held, and the provisions of section 355 of the Act of 1947 shall apply to any such inquiry. I think that answers the point, but these steps must be taken in sequence and they cannot be taken at this stage. I am not in a position to comment on a Schedule which has not been published or to take responsibility for what has been said in the newspapers.

I take my hon. Friend's point about difficulties which possibly could be encountered in Fife this year, but I am glad to say that I had a meeting, as he knows, with Fife County Council and the burgh councils of Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly and Leven, all of which are vitally concerned in the projected closures in 1966, 1967 and 1968. I was glad to assure them, from information which we have gathered from the Board of Trade and from past experience in Fife, that the Government do not envisage that these pit closures will cause any appreciable rise in unemployment, and if industrial development in Fife continues as it is we shall see a repopulation of some of the older communities in Fife and therefore these tolls would not be an impediment to the industrial development.

But I reaffirm to my hon. Friend, nevertheless, that, although we hear a good deal from the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) about page 10 of the manifesto on this subject—

Mr. G. Campbell

"Signposts for Scotland"?

Dr. Mabon

Yes, "Signposts for Scotland", which the hon. Gentleman often calls the manifesto—he does not always remember page 11. Page 10 covers the history—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not discussing "Signposts for Scotland". I hope that page 11 has something to do with the Tay Road Bridge.

Dr. Mabon

It certainly has, Mr. Speaker. Since you allowed this com- ment, Sir, I feel obliged, particularly in view of the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West to acknowledge the point and give our reply. My hon. Friend has asked me, on the question of principle, how the Secretary of State approaches this matter.

The observations on page 10 of "Signposts for Scotland" are historical in the sense of discussing what had happened in relation to the Forth Road Bridge and the Tay Road Bridge and what was, therefore, irredeemable and could not be corrected without new legislation. These matters being so, we are operating the legislation as best and as reasonably as we can, but the pledge on page 11 stands. If tolls were shown to be an inhibitor of industrial development, then, I am absolutely certain, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would wish to review the position and review it as favourably as my hon. Friend would wish.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will my hon. Friend undertake to send me a copy of the detailed statistics on which he bases his optimism for the future of Fife in 1966 and 1967?

D. Mabon

I shall be happy to provide this information to my hon. Friend I have no doubt that he will find it very useful in the forthcoming struggle.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Tay Road Bridge (Scheme) Approval Order, 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.