HC Deb 27 June 1973 vol 858 cc1527-9
22. Mr. Ian Campbell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many representations he has received against the toll charges on Erskine Bridge since it was opened.

Mr. Younger

Since July 1971 my right hon. Friend has received 19 representations about the toll charges. Six related to the policy of charging tolls or to the level of charges. The remainder were concerned with concessionary rates or season tickets.

Mr. Campbell

Is the Minister aware that he has received about the same number of complaints as I have received during that period of time? Does he appreciate that many of the daily users of the Erskine Bridge who travel backwards and forwards are showing growing militancy, and does he not agree that something must be done about the situation? Will he consider completely abolishing tolls?

Mr. Younger

As the hon. Gentleman will know, it was his own Labour Government which decided originally that this bridge was suitable for tolls, and I am sure that as a sportsman he would not expect us to change the rules at halftime. I have no evidence to suggest that the economic benefit of the bridge is reduced by the fact that there is a system of tolls. The tolls are very modest and they represent a good bargain for those who use the bridge compared with the cost of going round by a longer route.

Mr. Costain

Is my hon. Friend able to give the House any information about the revenue which has actually been received compared with the revenue which was estimated at the time of building?

Mr. Younger

As my hon. Friend will know, the traffic has been considerably lower than was originally forecast, but I am glad to say that there have recently been substantial increases in traffic which have significantly reduced the difference between the forecasts and the actual figures. Traffic crossing the bridge during the second year of operation will be in the region of 2.1 million vehicles compared with a forecast of 2.6 million vehicles. This represents a considerable improvement in terms of results.

Mr. Buchan

The Minister must realise the nature of the problem. Since many people in the new community have to cross the bridge twice a day, the payment of the toll is almost equivalent to paying rent. Will the Minister stamp on the suggestion by his Department about the possibility of increasing rates to deal with the financial problem? Since he mentioned the concept of sportsmen observing the rules, does he not agree that where the rules are found not to work they should be changed?

Mr. Younger

I am afraid that I did not hear the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. The existence of a new community, by which the hon. Gentleman obviously means the people in the Erskine new town, was well known to the Labour Government. If he felt so strongly about the matter, he could have done something about it when he held office. May I deal with the question of the charging of tolls where they occur? I do not think they are a major disincentive to people using the bridge and I repeat that it is cheaper than going by another route.

Mr. Grimond

How many road bridges in the south-east of England have tolls levied on them?

Mr. Younger

There are a number. Among them are the Severn Bridge, the Tamar Bridge, the Tyne Tunnel, the Mersey Tunnel and the Dartford to Purfleet Tunnel in England. All are subject to tolls. The principle is the same, and both Governments have followed it. Where there is a major estuarial crossing and there is an economic benefit in the shorter route provided by a bridge, tolls are charged.

Mr. Gourlay

Bearing in mind that since the opening of the Forth road bridge more than 8 million toll charges have been collected, in view of the rapid increase in the volume of traffic using the bridge will the hon. Gentleman look at the possibility on that bridge at least of reducing toll charges by 50 per cent.?

Mr. Younger

On the evidence available to me, I am not convinced that there is any case on financial grounds for reducing the tolls about which the hon. Gentleman asks. These bridges are built outwith the normal programme because it is proposed to impose toll charges. If they are built on that basis we cannot go back on it five years later because it suits us to do so.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Private Notice Question. Mr. Benn.

Mr. Lawson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has not the Chair ruled more than once that lengthy supplementary questions and answers take away from the value of Question Time? If on each Question there is what amounts to a minor debate, does not that also detract from the value of Question Time? Could we not speed up Questions much more?

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman's appeal will not fall upon deaf ears. Nothing could please me more than the implementation of what he suggests.