§ Order for consideration, as amended, read.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
I beg to move, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.
I shall be as brief as I can without being discourteous to those hon. Members who, in past months, have shown considerable interest in this Bill.
As I said on Second Reading, the purpose of the Bill is to enable urgent and difficult decisions about public transport on Merseyside to be made by the people of Merseyside, for the people of Merseyside, in and on Merseyside and not 200 miles away in Westminster or Whitehall. That was my reason for introducing and supporting the Bill on Second Reading on Thursday 24th March, and it remains my purpose. Hon. Members from Merseyside will confirm that there has been no great rush of Members to undertake that responsibility or to take it away from me. The responsibility is mine.
The Bill is a House of Commons Bill; it is no longer the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive Bill. It is in two parts. Part I concerns the future of the River Mersey ferries. Part II proposes means to reduce the very considerable losses caused by a minority of bus passengers who deliberately contrive to defraud the MPTE and their fellow passengers by paying less than the proper fare for any journey.
The annual deficit on ferry services is estimated to be £1 million. The annual loss caused by over-riding and underpayment of fares on the buses is estimated to be £2 million—a total of £3 million per annum, no small sum and a matter on which the people of Merseyside have the right to expect our interest, concern and help. To date, it has been given by hon. Members on both sides, in varying degrees. I hope that it will continue.
Because of that interest and concern, a number of points were raised on Second Reading by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In response to that concern, when replying, I gave a number of assurances on behalf of the MPTE—a public inquiry and the conditions under 107 which it would be operated, and the overriding clauses. In Committee all but one of these undertakings have been honoured by the MPTE, and I take responsibility for the one that was not honoured. It was to ensure that written into the Bill would be the right of Merseyside Members to appear before a public inquiry into the ferries. I do not need an Act of Parliament to give me the right to appear before a public inquiry into Merseyside ferries. God willing, I hope to be there, and heaven help anybody who tries to prevent me or other hon. Members from attending. So the MPTE has carried out every pledge made on Second Reading. Hon. Members will be aware of the continuing interest and contact between themselves, the MPTE and the county council.
Originally the Bill was introduced for a Labour-conrolled county council to which a Conservative Party leader of the council gave his full support on behalf of his Conservative group. Times change, and the Bill now before the House is supported by a Conservative-controlled county council to which the Labour leader on the county council gives his full support on behalf of his group. My authority for speaking is a letter from the chairman of the county council, Councillor Sir Kenneth Thompson, dated 11th July and sent from Metropolitan House, Liverpool. The letter reads:The Bill comes up for consideration at 7 p.m. tonight and as you were kind enough to move the Second Reading earlier this year I should be grateful if you will undertake to move the consideration stage on behalf of the county council and the Passenger Transport Executive and reply to any subsequent debates on the amendments".I hope that that will, in part at least, allay fears of Opposition Members without raising doubts among my hon. Friends. I trust that that will be of help.
The proposals to deal with "robbery through over-riding"—for that is what it is—are based on the practical experience of Cardiff and approved by the traffic commissioners in Cardiff city. They have been carefully and sensibly implemented and have caused no difficulty to the lawful public, to the police or to transport workers in Cardiff. I trust that that kind of active cautious approach by the MPTE will cause no difficulty for the lawful public, police and transport workers in 108 Liverpool. There is no reason why it should.
Some of my hon. Friends expressed concern because they thought at that time that some of the transport workers involved on Merseyside were opposed to the Bill. I quote a letter dated 8th July 1977 from Mr. Duffy, the Secretary of the MPTE:During a meeting this afternoon, Friday 8th, with nominated representatives of all those inspectors representing both NALGO and the T&GWU I was asked to inform you, for the purposes of Monday's debate if necessary, that those nominated inspectors saw no insuperable obstacles in the way of our introducing a standard general system on Merseyside through consultation and discussion with them and they would certainly not wish the Bill to be lost because any Member of Parliament may be under the erroneous assumption that they, the unions, disapprove in principle of what the Executive is trying to do in Clauses 8 and 9.In March, I asked for the opportunity for the Bill to be further considered. Hon. Members gave that opportunity. Now I ask for the amended Bill to be further considered, not on any party basis, not on any payroll or party vote, but on its merits. If we fail to do that tonight, the responsibility will lie not with the MPTE or with the Merseyside County Council but with those who wish to deny the opportunity of further consideration. After all, £3 million per annum is no small burden to be carried by the constituents, ratepayers and transport users of Merseyside. I ask that we consider how to lighten their burden and not to sanction, approve or allow it to continue without further consideration. All I ask is that further consideration be given to the Bill now.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)
When we consider the report from the Committee, it is necessary to appreciate the difference between enabling powers and specific powers. That point was raised frequently in Committee, and no satisfactory answer was given to a number of questions posed by hon. Members who served on the Committee.
To appreciate the purpose of the Bill, one must look at it as it was introduced on First Reading. That Bill differed substantially from the Bill that has returned from Committee. Perhaps the most important difference is that there is now provision for a public inquiry. In the original Bill, discontinuance of the ferries 109 was provided for to be effective following one month's notice by the county council. That was, in effect, the simple way of discontinuing the ferries.
Clause 3 provided that the Executive should publish in local newspapers circulating in the Merseyside county a notice stating that the ferries were to be discontinued. That notice should be one month's notice—that is, of the day fixed for discontinuance—and should be no earlier than the expiration of one month from the date of publication of the said notice.
I say this because my opposition to the Bill as it now stands to be considered is founded upon the fact that right from the start the Bill included provisions to discontinue the ferry service at Seacombe. To understand why these provisions were included one realises the merit of the Wallasey Corporation Act of 1958. Under that Act, there are existing powers for the Seacombe ferry to be discontinued. Section 158 of that Act starts with the memorable words:For the removal of doubtand continuesit is hereby enacted and declared that the Corporation have power (and shall be deemed always to have had power) to suspend any of their ferry services for such periods or during such times of the day or night as they may from time to time think fit.Subsection (2) states thatThe Corporation may with the consent of the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation permanently discontinue and abandon any of their ferry services.The Act later lays clown the procedures under which such discontinuance should take place. Section 213(1) clearly states thatAny Minister of the Crown may cause such local inquiries to be held as he may consider necessary for the purpose of any of his functions under this Act.I would have thought that in 1958 a sensible, proper procedure was laid down for the discontinuance of the Seacombe ferry. It allows for the ferry services to be discontinued, but only when the Secretary of State permits the authority to do so and after such inquiries as he may consider necessary.
We come back to the Bill as it originally entered this place. It provided for the revoking and repealing of those sections of the Wallasey Corporation Act that I have just react out. It stated that 110 the Seacombe and Woodside ferries could be discontinued at one month's notice without any power for the Secretary of State to intervene and without any provision for any public inquiry whatever at which the opinion of the public could be gauged.
Therefore, there is no doubt that hon. Members of this House greeted that Bill with a certain amount of scepticism and disagreement. What it sought to do—I confine my remarks to Seacombe at this stage—was to remove all the procedures that already existed for public inquiries and to replace them by discontinuance on one month's notice. The Bill also included the power to carry out the same discontinuance upon one month's notice with regard to Woodside.
I raise this matter because I feel that, when considering the Bill tonight one must have in mind the intention of the Executive. It seems quite clear to me that the intention of the Executive in promoting the Bill was to make it very simple and easy for the Executive to discontinue the ferries without any provision for local inquiries or any provision for the Secretary of State.
During Second Reading, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said that for his part he accepted there had been considerable disquiet among hon. Members about the lack of any public consultation. The Bill therefore went to Committee. It has now come back from Committee and contains provision for a public inquiry. I shall refer to the provisions in the Bill in greater detail when we discuss New Clauses 1 and 2. However, under the Bill there is now procedure for a public inquiry. It is set out not in the Bill itself but in Schedule 1(2) which states thatBefore making any such order under the said section 3—that is, the determination of the appointed day with regard to the Woodside and Seacombe ferries—the County Council shall cause a public inquiry to be held in connection with the proposals of the order.One immediately asks what the intention of the Bill was with regard to Seacombe because there is no point in enacting new procedures when existing procedures are on the statute book under the Wallasey Corporation Act 1958.
111 One then reads on and one starts to understand the purpose and the intention of the promoters. The Bill states, in Schedule 1 (4), thatThe County Council shall appoint as the person to hold any such public inquiry a person selected by them in agreement with all the district councils within the county".There are then provisions for notice to be givenin one or more local newspapersand there shall be 42 days' notice to enable all those participating to find time in some way to prepare their cases. There is also provision which states thatThe Executive, each of the district councils within the county, and any person interested in the proposals of the order may appear at the public inquiry, either in person or by counsel, solicitor or other representative.One immediately envisages an inquiry of considerable importance which is attended by a large number of people.
I come now to the steps that would set the inquiry in motion. They can only be as a result of a decision of the county council to discontinue the ferry services. If it decides to discontinue the ferry services, the provisions for a local inquiry in Schedule 1 come into play. But they come into force only when it is decided to close the ferry.
Let us envisage what will happen at the public inquiry. If there is no agreement, the independent chairman shall be appointed by the Secretary of State. There is provision for that. This is relevant to what I shall say later. Failing agreement with regard to the chairman of the inquirya person nominated by the Secretary of State on an application made by the County Council after notice to each of the district councilsshall be the person holding the inquiry.
One is therefore envisaging a situation in which the Secretary of State has appointed the chairman. The inquiry is then held. All those who seek to oppose the discontinuance of the ferries rise to their feet and make their case. Indeed. I envisage that experts would come to such an inquiry to give expert evidence with regard to the economics of the situation and to the environmental, leisure, tourism and other consequences of closing down the ferry services on Merseyside. At this stage I express no opinion with 112 regard to the merits or demerits of such a discontinuance.
One can envisage the scene in which all those who are opposed to the discontinuance of the ferries are present at the public inquiry before an independent chairman. The chairman of the county council and the transport executive would have to argue their case. No doubt they would bring before the inquiry expert witnesses of great calibre who would say how unprofitable the ferries are. They would ensure that every possible item of evidence was before the inquiry. It would be up to the chairman of the county council to make certain that every argument in favour of closing the ferry was put before the independent chairman.
What would happen then? Having heard the county council's case, and also having listened to the arguments advanced by those who support the ferry services, the chairman of the inquiry would make his recommendations. Paragraph 14 of Schedule 1, as it now is, is relevant in this respect. The chairman of the inquiry might make a recommendation against the county council. He might say "I find the county council's case for closing the ferry services is not proved." His decision could be as final as that. On the other hand, he might say that the case was proved in certain respects and not in others, or that he found the case for closure proved. Certainly there are a number of alternatives open to the chairman.
What will happen to the chairman's recommendations? This is the first fundamental point to which I wish to address my remarks. Paragraph 14 says thatBefore deciding to make the order—that is, the order discontinuing the ferries—the county council shall consider the report and recommendations (if any) of the person who held the public inquiry.Therefore, having pleaded the case before the inquiry's chairman, the county council must then consider his report. It should be noted that there is no provision whatever for any right of appeal against the decision of the Merseyside County Council. It could receive the report written by the chairman who has sat for many weeks, and even months, taking evidence and who has sought to be 113 as impartial as possible in recommendations which come down against the council. There is no provision by which that report can he subject to any right of appeal against the decision of the county council. That is a fundamental matter.
If the county council decides—I agree that under its present leadership there is no reason why it should do so—the reject the report of such a powerful and wide-ranging inquiry, surely there ought to be some provision in the Bill to state clearly—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to go fully into the subject, but, having listened to him now for almost 20 minutes, I should remind him that his arguments on this motion must be restricted to what is in the Bill. I intervened in his remarks because he was beginning to deal with what is not in the Bill. The subject of what is not in the Bill will arise when the House considers the new clauses and the amendments.
§ Mr. Hunt
Perhaps I may explain my position, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I accept what you have said and of course I shall pay heed to your ruling. There is a provision in the Bill to repeal Section 158 of the Wallasey Corporation Act, to which I shall address myself. It allows for an appeal to the Secretary of State in the event of discontinuance of the ferry services.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sorry to intervene once again, but we should seek to get the matter clear, although we conclude this debate at 10 o'clock in any case. I intervened in the hon. Gentleman's remarks originally when he began to deal with the question of what ought to be in the Bill.
§ Mr. Hunt
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having used an incorrect phrase. I should not have referred to what should be included in the Bill. I should have said that Section 158 of the Wallasey Corporation Act should not be repealed by this Bill.
When the county council considers the report of the inspector who has carried out the public inquiry, there is, under Section 158 of the Wallasey Corporation Act, a provision under which the county council's decision is subject to appeal. 114 Therefore, paragraph 14 is most inadequate in that respect and, coupled with the repealed section, does not preserve the rights of the public. The public, having achieved a victory on the merits of their case, may then see the county council throwing that victory out of the window and reinstating its original case as argued before the independent chairman of the public inquiry. That would defeat the object of the existing legislation which this Bill seeks to repeal in Schedule 2.
§ Mr. Ogden
The hon. Gentleman will know that responsibility for passenger transport in Merseyside is controlled by an Act of 1972—legislation under the control and direction of a Conservative Government. We also know that a Conservative-controlled county council is now operating those powers. In other words, is not the hon. Gentleman saying that he is not prepared to trust a Conservative-controlled county council and the word of a Conservative county council chairman, but is prepared to trust the word of a Labour Secretary of State for Transport because the decision will be made by him? It appears that the hon. Gentleman prefers that an appeal should be made to a Labour Minister in Westminster rather than to a Conservative chairman in Merseyside. I do not want to bring party politics into the argument, because this is a cross-party Bill, but it appears that the hon. Gentleman does not trust his own Conservative colleagues. If I can trust them, surely the hon. Gentleman can.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman says that he does not wish to bring party politics into this matter, but he appears to have done so most effectively. I do not believe that party politics has anything to do with this Bill, which is very much a non-party matter. The people whom I represent are not just those who voted for me but everybody who lives in my constituency. I seek to represent those constituents as effectively as I can. In doing so on a Bill of this nature, I cannot allow party political considerations to enter into the matter.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether I was ready, able and willing to trust the decision of a Labour Secretary of State. It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman to learn that 78 per cent. of his constituents who voted for me at the 115 last election do not believe that there will be a Labour Secretary of State for much longer. Without wishing to score party political points, I would at least make that one.
I am arguing for the retention of the existing power in the Wallasey Corporation Act which is sought to be repealed by this Bill. I am trying to look at the matter as objectively as I can. I have taken note of the fact that now leading the Mersey County Council is a man in whom I have considerable trust, whose integrity I respect, and whose word I accept.
In fact, we are talking about individual members of the county council seeking to come to a decision. In that county council there will undoubtedly be a majority one way or the other. Under the Bill as returned from Committee there is provision whereby a simple majority of the members of the county council could overturn or completely reject the findings of the chairman of the impartial inquiry. That has nothing to do with trusting one political party or the other; it has to do with the justice of the situation. Is it just, right or equitable that those who have argued at great length before a public inquiry should have no right of appeal to the Secretary of State when the county council seeks to override the decision or victory that they have achieved before the inquiry?
All along I have said that my only major objection to the Bill—I have many other objections—is that it has no right of appeal as I have described. I want to see some right of appeal retained, as in the Wallasey Corporation Act, and if necessary the same procedure applied to Woodside. I have made that clear as often as I can. I made it clear on Second Reading that I should not seek to oppose the Bill and that I should be prepared to drop every other objection that I have if such a right of appeal were introduced. I made that clear, although some of my other objections are well-founded and, I believe, correct. They may be raised in another place if the Bill proceeds tonight.
I am prepared to drop all my other objections and all the amendments and new clauses that I have proposed if I receive an undertaking that in another place there will be deleted from the Bill 116 what is presently inside it so that the terms of the Wallasey Corporation Act, or similar provisions, may be inserted. That would effectively remove the effect of the repeal within the Bill, especially if similar provisions were provided for Woodside. Surely that is a fair and reasonable position. I say that if some right of appeal to the Minister is inserted, I shall have no objection to the Bill.
It has been said in Committee that there is provision for appeal, which of course there is, whereby someone can make application to the High Court when the county council has published in the local newspapers the notice for the making of the order to discontinue the ferries. That is found in Clause 3(6)(b), which states:On any application under paragraph (a) above, the High Court—It may be that I represent some wealthy constituents who could afford to make application to the High Court. I know, as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Judicature, that it is expensive to make such applications. I go further, and say that it is prohibitively expensive to do so. Surely I am not seeking to be unreasonable when I say that the present provision for appeal to the High Court, which I recognise is contained within the Bill, is not acceptable. At the same time there should be provision for right of appeal to the Secretary of State, as under the Wallasey Corporation Act. I do not think that the public interest is adequately safeguarded by the Bill as it is presently drawn. It is not so much what it omits; it is what it does to remove the right of appeal to the Secretary of State by repealing the Wallasey Corporation Act.
- (i) may, by interim order, suspend the operation of the order until the final determination of the proceedings; and
- (ii) if satisfied that the order is not within the powers conferred by this Act, or that the interests of the applicant have been substantially prejudiced by failure to comply with any requirement of this Act with respect to the making of the order, quash the order either generally or so far as may be necessary for the protection of the interests of the applicant."
I read as carefully as I could the minutes of the proceedings in Committee. It was said that the Bill was principally concerned with the obtaining of orders to discontinue the ferries. It was statedIt is not concerned as such with the actual decision whether the ferries are to be discontinued.117 Counsel moving the Bill before the Committee said quite clearly that those were matters to be reserved for local decision. He then stated:But the principle of whether or not the power to discontinue the ferries should be given to the county council and the executive is not one against which there is any petition.Counsel sought to make a great deal of that argument in Committee but surely he was answering himself. He stressed that the Bill was not dealing with the question whether the ferries should be discontinued, and argued that people were not petitioning, but I know that many of my constituents and many people throughout the Wirral peninsula would have done so if there had been anything more in the Bill. In that event there would have been a substantial number of petitions.
I refer to that issue because later in Committee on the first day there was quite a large argument about the 1972 agreement. I do not wish to go into the intricacies of the agreement but it is relevant to refer to it bearing in mind the attempt that has been made to make a case for the urgency with which the Bill is now being pressed upon us. The case was pressed in Committee for bringing forward the Bill, considering it today and then seeking to enact it so that its provisions could come into effect.
What is the urgency? We are told that no decision has been made whether to discontinue the ferries. It is said that powers are being sought merely to enable them to be discontinued. As such powers already exist in respect of one ferry, why the urgency? I shall return to why I do not believe that there is any urgency in respect of Woodside. I shall deal with that later.
The 1972 agreement is extremely relevant. At that time the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive was entering into an agreement with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. That was on 9th October 1972. It was stated that the agreement was to continue for 10 years. My question—it is a question that has been raised time after time in Committee—is why. here is now such urgency when in 1972 provision was being enacted in a voluntary sense in the terms of the agreement with the two bodies, an agreement which was to run for 10 years. I shall turn to the let-out clauses but it was effectively an agreement for 10 years.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
That agreement for 10 years also meant that the dock company entered into a great deal of capital expenditure in making provision for the new stage at Liverpool. Certainly the dock company was of the opinion that the 10-year agreement really meant something of that sort.
§ Mr. Hunt
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. When we examine the Committee proceedings we find that point being raised again and again, particularly by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. It was entering an agreement which carried a number of obligations. What was the response from the promoters? Through their counsel they said:The position is a little difficult, of course, because the executive were put on the spot in 1971.It is made clear in page 19 of the minutes of Wednesday 11th May 1976 that at that time they had not resolved to come to Parliament to seek powers to discontinue the ferry service. The proposal by the company created acute embarrassment for them which the Committee believes may have placed them in a difficult position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) carries the same name as myself and that causes much confusion in my constituency when I send my constituents the minutes of the proceedings in Committee. I wish that when minutes were printed, an initial or Christian name could be put in. However, that is not a point to be made now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne, accepting the arguments that had been put forward by counsel, said:It would seem to me that two public bodies who should be concerned with public expenditure should have been in communication and perhaps some kind of reliable forecast about future traffic ought to have been discussed at that time. I was wondering whether such discussions took place.Counsel in Committee said:I think it is right to say that there was some indication at that time of the agreement that the executive were not certain as to how long they were to continue providing a ferry service.Coming out of the Committee is the general impression that there was considerable confusion in 1972 when the executive entered into an agreement to keep the ferry service in being, extending for 10 years.
119 There were some provisions whereby the agreement could be terminated on six months' notice. Where is the urgency when, in 1972, already faced with what a number of hon. Members pointed out in Committee was clear and unequivocal evidence that the ferry service had declined between 1955 and 1971, there was still a willingness to enter into an agreement for some considerable time?
At one stage the Chairman was prompted to say that he did not feel that there was any point in continuing with the Committee proceedings until that matter had been sorted uot. It was sorted out.
I cite these minutes as evidence for the general feeling that there is not sufficient merit in the urgency to bring forward these enabling powers that the promoters of the Bill and, indeed, the hon. Member for West Derby seek to establish.
§ Mr. Ogden
The Committee approved the Bill. I suggest that £3 million as the estimated loss is a reason for some urgency. What any organisation thought in 1972 may be proved wrong in 1976. We have had this matter before us from November last year through to July, and it will continue in the other place for some time. This sum of money ought to be dealt with. It is getting more, not less.
Perhaps I may make one comment on an earlier point made by the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt). The hon. Gentleman referred to the right of appeal. I have given that matter some consideration. I hope that he will accept that I am in some difficulty. The hon. Gentleman wants a right of appeal to the Secretary of State against a decision by the county council. At 7.43 p.m. on 11th July I do not know whether the Secretary of State for Transport will approve that idea or not. Indeed, I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) or the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) would support or agree with that idea, or whether my hon. Friends would agree or disagree. All I can say is that the MPTE has done all that was asked of it on Second Reading.
The hon. Gentleman is now suggesting that the House, collectively, should scrap all those amendments and put something else in their place. I cannot give the kind of undertaking for which he is asking. 120 I do not know whether we can get Merseyside Members of Parliament together with members of the county council to get an agreed procedure for an inquiry and appeal to the Secretary of State. If so, and if the hon. Gentleman would be prepared to accept a majority decision on that matter, so should I. I do not suggest 10 Labour Members against five Conservative Members. We could weight them with the county council. We could try to get an agreed procedure to be implemented by the county council. However, the Bill is for the House to decide. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we should scrap everything that has been done until I have heard the views of hon. Members on both sides.
§ Mr. Hunt
I suggest that there should be provisions within the Bill for the non-repeal of the Wallasey Corporation Act 1958 or for the enactment of similar provisions repeating the safeguards that the House previously placed on the discontinuance of the ferries. The Bill seeks to take away those safeguards. I want similar procedures in the Bill for both the Seacombe and Woodside ferries.
I believe that I am putting forward a logical argument. The promoters are seeking the repeal of legislation enacted in this place. The onus of proof is on them. I believe that we should maintain the safeguards until they can be replaced by something better. I have amendments down for consideration tonight which I believe will improve the Bill. I am talking to those amendments at the moment.
Until the Bill can be improved, any assurances given to me by the hon. Member for West Derby must be in the form of undertakings. The hon. Gentleman seeks to press the Bill forward for consideration tonight. All I ask is that he should give an undertaking to accept that the Bill does wrong by attempting to re-remove those provisions in the Wallasey Corporation Act and that he is prepared 121 Corporation Act and that he is prepared to replace those provisions by something similar that gives the safeguard of a right of appeal.
The hon. Gentleman said that he did not know whether the Secretary of State for Transport would accept the right of appeal to him. My experience, from reading past copies of Hansard and looking at previous provisions of this nature, is that on almost every occasion the Secretary of State for Transport has said that he did not want the power. There has never been an adequate, impulsive or enthusiastic acceptance of the onus of duty and responsibility. I talk not of the present holder of the office of Secretary of State for Transport, but of someone to whom the public have every right to look, because he can take an impartial glance at the procedures that have been gone through to decide, first, whether the right decision has been taken and, secondly, whether the right procedures in reaching that decision have been followed.
In support of what I am seeking to do I should like to refer to a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne on the last day of the proceedings in Committee. The point that he made was not properly answered, and I shall shortly refer to his response following the reply that he received.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne, on page 7 of the proceedings in Committee on Wednesday 19th June, said:There is one point I should like to raise so far as the public inquiry is concerned. I am not altogether happy with the fact that it seems to me that the county council will be judge and jury in its own case. The person holding the public inquiry has merely to report to the county council, and it seems to me that they are entirely free to follow or disregard that report if they so wish. It did occur to me that perhaps the Secretary of State ought to be brought into the picture at some stage before the final decision is taken.My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne made that point in Committee on the last day. He was then addressed at some length by counsel for the promoters. At the conclusion of that lengthy address, my hon. Friend said:I will not pursue it at this stage.One therefore asks: at what stage should my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne seek to pursue it? Naturally, it is right that it should be pur- 122 sued here when we are considering the report of the Committee. I hope that that emphasises that I, like that member of the Committee, feel that it is wrong for the county council to be, judge and jury. Under the Bill the county council seek to be prosecuting counsel, judge and jury, which is not acceptable.
§ Mr. Loyden
Does the hon. Member agree that the case of the county council would have been proved if it had carried out the inquiry before presenting the Bill?
§ Mr. Hunt
I was coming to that. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) has made one of the most crucial points that I seek to make. I shall come to it when discussing Woodside.
Why have this Bill? What is the purpose of it? There is already power to discontinue the service to Seacombe if there is a proper public inquiry with the right of appeal to the Secretary of State. There is an old law concerning Woodside which was discussed at great length in Committee. That seems to suggest that some legislation is necessary, as amplified by the courts in a recent decision.
Is not the answer to come to the House and ask it to permit the closure of the ferries after a public inquiry? That would enable hon. Members to read the arguments for and against maintaining the services. Those who wish to close the ferries would then be able to say that they had proved their case and ask for power to close them down.
That procedure was followed for the New Brighton ferry, although it was discontinued before the public inquiry. However, I have no authoritative facts about that. After a public inquiry the Secretary of State authorised the discontinuance of the New Brighton ferry.
There is nothing to stop the promoters from going back and trying to work out the best way of saving the ferry. Let them have a public inquiry, as laid down in the Wallasey Corporation Act, with the right of appeal to the Secretary of State. If they do not want to seek the authority of the Secretary of State let them come to the House and seek an enabling Bill to authorise the closure, even if it is retrospective. We could then be asked to authorise the closure.
That also applies to the second part of the Bill. There are already adequate 123 powers to deal with over-riding. I am not firmly against these provisions in the Bill but there is adequate existing power without a Bill.
I return to my initial argument. Why the urgency? Why the need for the Bill? Time after time in Committee those questions were asked. No adequate response was given. There is no adequate response because there are existing procedures for closing one of the services, primary procedures for the other and existing procedures are effective to deal with over-riding.
I turn to the crucial clause that deals with over-riding. The original Bill contained Clause 7, which I shall not read out because that would abuse the leave that I am being given tonight. The clause is long. We should pause to consider that clause, which deals with over-riding on public service vehicles. We had a lengthy discussion on the original clause. One of the members of the Committee sought to know the justification of the need to insert such provisions. On 12th May 1977 Mr. Hill was examined at length about the combined deficit for 1975–76. He said that he had the budgeted figures for the later years but only the final audited figures for that year. He said that on direct bus operations the loss was £9 million and that the bus companies lost £1.1 million on the ferries. Payments under the rural agreement came to £4.8 million and, after some discussion on the figures, he arrived at a total deficit of £19.6 million. The Committee then discussed what action had been taken to overcome the losses. On 17th May, there was a discussion about the necessity of having the overriding clause.
I refer to a witness, Mr. Milefanti, a representative from the Department of Transport. I quote his evidence with authority because I know his capabilities. Mr. Milefanti gave me great assistance when I was trying to understand the complexities of the minibus legislation. I have had many opportunities to talk about that in the House. I was very pleased when the Bill passed through its many stages last week.
Mr. Milefanti was asked why a standard fare should be imposed in this way 124 under Clause 7 and in the amended Clauses 8 and 9. He explained that in South Wales the Traffic Commissioners had given authority to charge similar fares to those that are proposed in the Bill. He was asked why there was a need to have such proposals in the Bill. He said that South Wales was an experimental area and already carried out these procedures. He pointed out that Merseyside never made a formal application to the Traffic Commissioners. He explained that the question of the Traffic Commissioners giving their authority did not arise in the case of Merseyside because no formal application had been made and turned down by the Traffic Commissioners. He was talking about the power of the Secretary of State to make a decision on this issue.
It is, of course, open to the Traffic Commissioners to take a view of the law one way or another and to act accordingly. What Mr. Milefanti tried to clarify was the position of the Department of Transport. He said that if the North-West Commissioners were right—presumably he was then referring to an unofficial decision made by those Traffic Commissioners—it was necessary to have an express power in order to operate a controlled fare or standard fare, or whatever one calls it, in this way. In that case it is necessary to have a fresh legal provision. Then—and this was the opinion of the Department of Transport—that should be a national provision and should not be a local legislative one. This is what the Bill seeks to do.
The hon. Member for Preston, South, or North—no one assists me in telling me which one it is, so I go on.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said this—and I think it was a very good question in Committee, which was again never answered. He said to Mr. Milefanti,Would you not agree therefore the tidier way to deal with this problem is for the Passenger Transport Executives to get together and jointly promote a Bill which would give them the power which just one Passenger Transport Executive is now seeking?125 Mr. Milefanti replied, quite logically I think,If they did that, that certainly would be tidier as regards Passenger Transport Executives.I believe that it would.
Perhaps one of my major difficulties in this case is that this Bill—I believe that this was also commented on in Committee—is really two separate Bills. On the one hand, it deals with the ferry service—I have tried so far to avoid sentiment on that issue, but it seeks to discontinue the ferry service—and on the other hand, it deals with over-riding. The only connection is that both these services and this practice respectively are stated to make considerable losses. That is the only connecting factor.
I believe in law that that is a very bad reason for putting things into a Bill. If we were to try to lump together in one Bill all the services, practices and undertakings, and, indeed, pursuits of Government, that made a loss, we should need a codified system of legislation, which would debar reading, because it would be so lengthy that we should be reading it until the year 2000.
§ Mr. Ogden
I always thought that the hon. Gentleman was in favour of initiative and encouraged enterprise and all those things. There is a situation in which standard fares are operating in Cardiff under the law of the land. Inquiries were made of a similar body which gave that authority, the Traffic Commissioners on Merseyside. The indication was that it would not be allowed on Merseyside. So we have one Act of Parliament and two different groups of Traffic Commissioners, one allowing something to happen in Cardiff and the other saying that on Merseyside it would not go through. Therefore, on Merseyside, rather than waiting for someone else to do this—and hon. Members often complain that we have too much legislation—they decided that as there was an Act coming along they would do this at the same time. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have approved of this. Why wait to catch up when we can be the leaders?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am always in favour of initiative, but not confusion. One of the saddest things that results from this place —again, I am speaking as a solicitor and 126 perhaps a trifle pompously, for which I ask for your fiat, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is that this place turns out Act after Act which quite often conflict with other legislation and have cross-references to other legislation. It really has resulted in the law of the land becoming a legislative jungle. The one thing that we should try to do is to avoid confusion. That is what is caused by the Bill seeking in its second part, in these two clauses, to introduce this new concept legislatively for just one particular area.
We all know the arguments about experimental areas, and no doubt the Minister—I am very pleased to see that he is taking such an interest as to listen very carefully to what is being said—is in favour of experimental areas and trying to find a path through the difficulties of road traffic law and trying experimental areas. I happen to disagree with him in that concept, but he wishes to try experimental areas. Surely here there is opportunity for us to regard South Wales as an experimental area and, indeed, for the Department of Transport, in consultation with the Traffic Commissioners, to designate other parts of the country, if necessary, where such experiments could be carried on. However, I do not believe that it is right to have in the Bill such extensive powers quoted unilaterally, so to speak.
Since we had the opportunity of discussing the Bill on Second Reading, there has been a tremendous amount of correspondence between the Chief Constable of Merseyside, on the one hand, and the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive on the other. I think that it is right —no doubt the hon. Member for West Derby will agree—to heed the views of the man who will have to enforce the Bill's provisions, which we are now seeking to enact. I want to quote from a copy of a letter which I received from the Chief Constable and which he had addressed to Mr. Duffy of the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive on 9th May. I believe that we have a right carefully to consider the views that he expresses, because they so drastically affect the contents of the Bill, and whether or not we approve what is in the Bill on this consideration.
The Chief Constable refers to a meeting which took place—and I was glad 127 that such a meeting had taken place—between the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive and himself. At that meeting he started off by explaining that he had expressed his objections to the proposals on overriding. He then explained what these objections were, and I believe that we must take them into account. He said,My criticism stems from two viewpoints, one purely local taking in the Merseyside scene and the other, recognising the important innovations contained in the Bill, looking at it in a national perspective. The Bill, which aims to make your Authority financially more viable, seeks … to introduce an offence of overriding to deal with those passengers who travel a further distance than that for which they have paid. A standard fare is introduced by Clause 7(a) to be levied on the offending passenger.He then comments that the clause, which has now come back from Committee as Clause 8, on standard fares, differs from the original Clause 7 in name only and retains the initial conception of a fixed penalty and on-the-spot fines. He then explains,It is the difficulties likely to be met in enforcing these provisions which give rise to my concern. I am aware that it is the opinion of the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive that Clause 7 will not materially add to the burdens of the Merseyside Police, but I must repeat the view expressed at the meeting that I find this conclusion somewhat unreal. If the passenger concerned refuses to pay the fine or … the standard fare and declines to provide his name and address, your employee has no recourse but to call for the assistance of my officers. Given the size of the problem that you explain, namely, 16 per cent. of your passengers indulge in overriding resulting in a loss of revenue of the order of £2 million to £2½ million a year, and your resources in manpower, which according to a recent survey is 290 inspectors and 2,635 drivers, I should have thought that considerable confrontation would result if this legislation is given parliamentary approval.We should, indeed, reflect on those words when we seek to give consideration and approval to these clauses.
The Chief Constable then explained that he had conducted an examination of recent crime statistics which indicated that in 1976 a total of 19 offences involving criminal assaults on bus crews were recorded on Merseyside. He also enclosed details of those offences where, in 1976, there had been instances of drivers being punched after disputes.Driver kicked after dispute over fare; driver struck by a brick; driver kicked and 128 punched; driver kicked; driver punched; drive punched in Shell Road, Rocky Lane, Liverpool 6, in 1976; driver both punched and kicked by two youths who had travelled further than fare paid.We should reflect on this, because it is exactly what we are talking about. He goes on to give further examples:Conductor punched after dispute over fare; driver punched after dispute; driver punched and kicked by passengers after dispute; conductor assaulted whilst ejecting troublesome passenger; bus inspector punched and driver punched after argument; driver knocked to ground.All of these are separate instances. There are four more:Driver assaulted by passenger after dispute; driver punched by passenger for no reason; driver punched after dispute; in Fleet Lane, St. Helen's, driver assaulted after dispute over fare.He said that he would also accept that many assaults of a lesser nature had occurred but were not recorded. He added:During the period 1st October 1976 to 20th April 1977, officers of Merseyside police were called to the assistance of bus crews on 53 occasions and, as a result, a total of 25 persons were prosecuted for various offences, seven of which featured some sort of violence.He then states, and we should pay heed to his words:To introduce into this already difficult situation the further aggravation of a standard fare penalty and not expect an escalation of police involvement is to ignore the obvious. You did hint that you do not propose to ask my force to extend its activities beyond the limit of existing manpower.It was clear from what the Chief Constable of Merseyide was saying that he had no doubt that these powers which are being sought would lead to confrontation. Indeed, he ended his letter by saying:If you in the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive are successful in your bid for these powers my officers and, subsequently, officers of other police forces would find themselves involved in ascerbic situations with members of the public merely to correct the financial shortcomings in your own and similar organisations.We might say that he is a chief constable who does not moderate his views just to exchange pleasantries with the Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive. I would have thought that those views would have been accepted by the person to whom they were addressed. I am not aware of what consultations took place between the date of that letter and 129 the reply from Mr. Duffy of 27th May 1977 in which he said:It astonishes and dismays the executive that you are prepared to imply that we should continue to carry these losses either because of some supposed strain our defensive measures might place upon your manpower resources or in the interests of good police-public relationships. It seems to the executive to be a novel and disturbing doctrine that we must, in the interests of the police service, tolerate a certain degree of criminality.What pompous words! Perhaps the pomposity disguises a lack of logic. I said I believe that the losses being experienced by this form of over-riding are serious. If the figures are correct £2 million a year is a savage and difficult burden for the ratepayers of Merseyside and for the taxpayers of the country, through Government grants, to bear. Perhaps the chief constable is right. When seeking to do something constructive about over-riding, perhaps we shall involve ourselves in an effort to limit public expenditure and public losses in one direction with the result that there will be a considerable increase in public expenditure in another direction.
If the chief constable is right and the introduction of the over-riding provisions would lead to an increase in the number of confrontations, what is already a sorely stretched police force in Merseyside would find it virtually impossible to meet the increased demands. I have today received a telephone call, just before I came into the Chamber, from one of my constituents, who said that he had been burgled and robbed twice in the past week. He asked "What are you going to do about it?" I suggest that one of the things we can do about it here is not to impose an additional strain on the police force by asking it to uphold a law which will be a difficult law and may well lead to confrontations, the like of which we would not wish to put on to the police.
When the Committee agreed and found the Preamble proved, it said that it was right for the executive to seek these powers. What it did not find agreed or approved was that it was right for the powers to be exercised. I am advised that that is a technical distinction. I want to go on to Woodside because that merits a detailed—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) will not miss the last ferry.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
Before the hon. Gentleman goes any further, would he take it from me that in the Fylde area, where I live, there is a standard sum charged for anyone who over-travels? Is he aware that I have not heard of or seen any disturbance following a conductor or driver asking for an excess fare to be paid? Is it not a fact that he is stretching this point to make the corporation's case weak in the eyes of the public and the police? The police have a duty to uphold the law. I can assure him that citizens in my area are only too glad to pay up and avoid prosecution.
§ Mr. Erie S. Hefter (Liverpool, Walton)rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We are on to the ferry now. I think that we have finished with the other subject. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) may be able to take part in the debate when the hon. Member for Wirral has finished his speech.
§ Mr. Hunt rose—
On this point about overriding and the people who might get transport from Liverpool to St. Helens, may I ask him to bear in mind that the Fylde and the Liverpool routes could be very different indeed and the reactions of the passengers very different?
§ Mr. Hunt
I am glad that the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Heifer) has made that point. It is a significant one, and I apologise for having omitted it when I dealt with over-riding. I admit that you are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in that I had moved on to the question of the Woodside ferry, but I had not intended to leave over-riding altogther, because I have it in mind to make another brief reference to it at the end of my speech.
I come then to the question of the Woodside ferry and the ferry service itself. After the hon. Member for Walton had 131 spoken in the Second Reading debate, I was reported in The Sunday Times as having said that he brought tears to my eyes. There is a great deal of sentiment attached to the ferries. As a Liverpudlian and one who went to Liverpool College for all his schoolboy life, I have used the ferries a very great deal, and I still use them whenever I can. There is no doubt that the ferries strike a deep note in the hearts of Merseyside people.
I am not allowed to disclose any private conversation that I may have had with people of great dignity, but it was an enormous pleasure for me to be on the "Royal Iris" on Tuesday 21st June, when Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip came to the River Mersey. What form of transport did they use? What form of transport did they consider appropriate and right to use in order to see the people of Merseyside? Of course, they chose and travelled on the "Royal Iris", one of our ferries.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am glad that my speech has given the hon. Member an opportunity to withdraw his accusation about its being a painted little hussy. Those words have been in my mind ever since that debate as a phrase of most unnatural consequence. Indeed, I felt that they cast doubt upon the origin of that ship and the adequacy of it. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity of his intervention to withdraw the phrase.
The hon. Member for West Derby was a privileged person on that occasion, as I was. Both of us were on the "Royal Iris" with Her Majesty The Queen. But everyone else of any consequence in Merseyside was sitting or standing—mainly standing—on the two ferry boats which are used for the ordinary ferry crossing. Those ferry boats were used on that day, and they were part of the flotilla of ships which not only allowed Her Majesty to see Merseyside in all its splendour but allowed a great many of 132 the residents of Merseyside to see Her Majesty in splendour sailing on the "Royal Iris".
It was a great day for the ferry service on Merseyside. It was a great day because the worth of the ferries was then proved as being very much at the heart of Merseyside. It is a fact that people have been using the ferries for a considerable time. But under the Bill there is to be power to discontinue the ferries. Obviously, when we consider whether to allow the Bill to go forward, we must at the same time consider whether it is right to allow the authorities to have that power to discontinue.
I have tried to explain as best I can the ways in which I regard the Bill as not only inadequate but unnecessarry. One of its least necessary features, in my view, is that power is sought to discontinue ferry services before consideration of the case as to whether it is right to discontinue the Woodside ferry or the Seacombe ferry. Surely that is relevant tonight.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I doubt that it is relevant to argue that. I think that the hon. Gentleman admitted earlier that powers were sought under the Bill to do a certain thing, and the hon. Gentleman read from some of the evidence which was put to the Committee indicating that it was not sought to operate the powers immediately. Therefore, I do not see how the hon. Gentleman can argue that the authorities should have done it the other way round before bringing in the Bill.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
No, not necessarily. The other night, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, he told me how I could get £25 a week for going blind. I am not suggesting that he should dispute anything I said, but I thought that he had disposed of the question whether there was any need to have these ferries. I thought that he had been doing that for the past hour. But if he wishes to go on again and repeat what seem to me to be arguments which he has already adduced, I shall listen to him with care.
§ Mr. Hunt
As I said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am absolutely guided by you. I am now seeking to find out whether 133 the executive should have this power to discontinue. I have not dealt with whether there is a case for continuing the ferries, but when a Bill seeks such powers, we should debate whether they should be given. Because I wanted to come to it now, I earlier avoided dealing with the question whether there is a case for forgetting the Bill and the discontinuing powers and maintaining the ferry service as it is.
In 1972, the same year as the agreement which looked 10 years ahead, the Executive published a transport plan for Merseyside. It said:It is felt, therefore, that before a decision is made on the future of the Mersey ferries, a detailed study should be undertaken to assess fully their economic an d social value.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That can still be done if the Bill is passed. Nothing prohibits that being carried out under the Bill.
§ Mr. Hunt
I have now put on my spectacles, so that I can see the facial contortions of the hon. Member for West Derby, which I feel are exaggerated. I am seeking to consider the need for the Bill. I am advised that when one considers a Bill, one is entitled to assess whether it should progress to Third Reading. I was trying to examine the need for the Bill and to show that there is none. I have sought to explain that I do not think that it would be necessary even if there were a decision to close the ferries. I am now seeking to argue that no powers should be sought to close the ferries in any event. I do not think 134 that I am being too tautologous or oxymoronic in seeking to state my case in that way because there are two separate parts—[HON. MEMBERS: "What does he mean?"] I have been accused tonight of regaling myself with certain periphrastic and other grammatical indulgences. That is the accusation which is thrown at me. I am trying to demonstrate that I am in no way being quixotically chivalrous with words. I am trying to plead my case in parts as separate as possible. It is right to consider now whether we should discontinue the ferries in any event. If the answer to that is that we should not, there is no need for the Bill, even accepting all the hypotheses that I have been posing.
In March 1972, it was demanded, decided and indeed provided that there should be a detailed study. The overall objective of the study was stated to beTo recommend in broad terms a preferred policy for the MPTE to pursue in the provision of surface transport facilities across the River Mersey.I have been accused of wishing to maintain ferry services on the grounds of sentiment alone. People have said to me, both inside and outside the Chamber, that my real purpose in opposing the Bill or in seeking to delay further consideration is that we do not want to discontinue the ferries because they are part of Merseyside's heritage, because they mean something to the people of Merseyside that cannot easily be replaced.
I feel strongly that this place often does not consider the long-term effects of the decisions it makes. I could cite many cases where we have decided to authorise powers or to grant enabling powers to bodies to discontinue services, to discontinue a whole area of activities, only to discover later that we were totally wrong to grant the power.
I believe that this will be so with the ferries. They are such a part of Merseyside's heritage that it will be a sad day if they are taken away and we wake up one morning and they are not there. Indeed, it was contemplated under the first Bill that if we went away on holiday for a month we would return and find that the ferries had gone. If we were to wake up one morning on Merseyside and discover that we no longer had any ferries across the Merseyside, that would be a sad day for Merseyside—not merely 135 because of sentiment but because the ferries provide Seacombe and Woodside with an effective means of transport, but they also provide something much deeper. They provide an opportunity to cross the Mersey on the surface.
I am advised that I should be out of order if I were to refer to alternative crossings. Nor can I spend a considerable time talking about whether it was right to build a tunnel and not a bridge across the Mersey. Whatever has happened, there are three modes of crossing the Mersey. In fact, there are four modes. When I travelled recently on the Mersey underground, I said to one of my co-passengers "Which of the three forms of crossing the Mersey do you prefer?" He said "Swimming". I suppose that is a fourth method.
§ Mr. Hunt
The first of the three specific ways of crossing the Mersey is by the tunnel. There are two tunnels now, through Wallasey and underneath Woodside. The second method is by the new loop link line. My poor wife and two children and I this morning tried to negotiate the loop link with almost catastrophic results. In the end we had to run from Liverpool Central to Liverpool Lime Street because that station is not yet open. I say this to demonstrate that there is still a long way to go before we have an effective underground system on Merseyside.
§ Mr. Heffer
The hon. Gentleman must know that there is a fourth method of crossing the Mersey. That is the way that Bill Shankley often employed—to walk across.
§ Mr. Hunt
Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have never been present at one of those exhibitions that I know Mr. Shankley often gave when he was manager of the Royal Liverpool Football Club, as I hope that it will one day become. However, I can imagine from Shankley's prowess that it happened.
We have an Underground system. One asks what the alternative is for somebody—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We cannot start discussing alternatives on this 136 Bill. There is nothing in the Bill dealing with alternatives. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to refrain from discussing that aspect.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not substitute the words "subterranean passage".
§ Mr. Loyden
The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) should not be so reticent about his feelings for the Mersey ferries. As one who travelled to and from Birkenhead twice a day for more than 25 years, I know the general feeling of the people who use the ferries. They regard it as the most acceptable and healthy way of crossing the river.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not discuss that intervention. It was entirely out of order.
§ Mr. Hunt
What will be the consequence if we allow the Bill to pass into legislative effect? The ferries are, in effect, the only surface crossings available to the ordinary person. There is no bridge, and if we removed the two ferry services we should deprive local people of an option. I have carefully avoided the use of the word "alternative" and I shall carefully avoid the word "tunnel". The only other option for these people would be to descend into the depths.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am grateful for the penetrating comments that you are making from time to time, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They assist me in understanding the complexities of the Bill. The only option left to the public if the ferries were removed would be to take lifts down into 137 the Underground. The users of transportation on Merseyside would be deprived of an acceptable alternative.
We have heard much about public expenditure, and I am a member of a party that believes that such expenditure must be cut. It is therefore right to refer to this aspect of the matter. The Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive is losing £19!6 million a. year and the ferries account for £1!1 million of that. To those who seek powers to discontinue the ferries, I say, why pick on them? What is there about the ferries that makes it easy to lop them off the deficit? What is it about them that makes the ferries so vulnerable to procedures such as those in the Bill? I do not know the answer, but perhaps it is because they are an ascertainable part of the transportation system and, in order to reduce the deficit at a stroke, it is easier to pick on the ferries. This is a bad reason.
Before we allow the promoters of the Bill to have the powers that they seek, we should have a full review of the transportation system in Merseyside so that adequate decisions could be made without trying to hide behind the cloud that would descend over the whole operation if the ferry services were chopped and nothing were done to maintain the other operations.
About 20 minutes ago, I was attempting to refer to a study which was affectionately known as the Cranfield study. This is a study of transportation on Merseyside which is in the possession of the promoters of the Bill. It went very carefully into the question whether the ferry should be discontinued and whether there were any arguments for maintaining the ferry services. The report came to some interesting conclusions.
One of the points on which I spoke on Second Reading, and on which I have not yet been satisfied, was that the Cranfield report had not been dealt with adequately, nor had it been followed in any way. If the Bill were to proceed to another place, I would need to be satisfied that its conclusions and recommendations had been gone into very carefully. I very much regret that I have not been thus satisfied.
Discussions that I have had with the promoters of the Bill lead me to believe 138 that there is a much more urgent and pressing need to have an in-depth, up-to-date, detailed survey of Merseyside's transportation rather than to seek powers through this Bill to discontinue the ferry services.
The Cranfield Report made a number of recommendations that are highly significant to consideration of the Bill. One of its major conclusions was that new, smaller ferries could operate satisfactorily from existing landing stages. I have had an assurance—which I accept—from the Chairman of the Transportation Committee, Mrs. Leech, that this has been gone into very carefully. It would be presumptuous of me to try to say that that is untrue because I have great faith in what she told me.
However, I believe that there are opportunities for smaller boats to carry out the ferry services, which would make this Bill totally unnecessary. That is one of the major points that I seek to put forward. The Cranfield Report went into great detail about whether the loss could have been met. It is the loss which is pleaded in support of the case for allowing the Bill to go forward for consideration, and it is constantly stated that the loss is the one thing that justifies the Bill. The Cranfield Report said that our current vessels offer 1,200 places per vessel. That means that 1,200 people can be carried on a 20-minute service from Seacombe and Woodside, alternately using the one stage at Liverpool, although leaving two separate stages on the Wirral Peninsula side of the Mersey. The report sad that the current maximum peak hour loading never uses more than half the existing capacity, so that never more than 600 people, even at maximum peak time, use the ferry.
The report stated:Significant reductions in operating costs, basically through smaller crews and simpler terminal procedures, should be possible with the operation of small vessels.Feasibilty studies have been carried out on the design of 500-place and 200-place vessels, the former being chosen as necessary to cope with maxmum peak loading. The feasibility studies were carried out by a firm in Basingstoke which gave an outline specification for a 500-place vessel. This is gone into carefully in Appendix 12 of the report.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am genuinely sorry at having to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech. I have pointed out that it was in order to discuss alternatives to the Bill on Second Reading but that it is not in order to discuss alternatives on the motion for considering the Bill, nor to raise questions of general policy such as, for example, the review of all transportation on Merseyside. I must stick to the ruling that I have given.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it an alternative to suggest that smaller ferries rather than the present size ferry could be operating? That is directly connected with the stopping or continuation of the ferries.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That alternative could have been discussed on Second Reading, but it cannot be discussed now.
§ Mr. Hunt
Plainly I am bound by your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. but it restricts me considerably and I may not be able to speak for as long as I had hoped. When we are discussing whether we should allow consideration of the Bill, we must call into doubt whether it is right to give these powers. I was seeking to demonstrate—and I am not wishing to proceed along the avenue which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have closed for me—that the promoters have not properly prepared the ground for the Bill. It was my intention to refer at length to certain speeches made in Committee, but, in view of the shortness of time, I shall not do so. However, the point was made several times in Committee that the Bill had not been thought through and had not been adequately prepared.
I go further. I believe that the Bill is a legislative nonsense. It has emerged from Committee with provisions and powers for the county council which fall between the two stools about which I have spoken. Either we give the public an effective and proper right to be consulted, or we do not give them any right and say that this is the responsibilty of the local transport executive which should make decisions both as to over-riding and as to the continuance of the ferries.
If we adopt the latter course, there will be no public inquiry at all. We shall do what the Bill originally intended, namely, 140 to terminate the ferry service on a month's notice.
§ Mr. Heffer
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the question of discontinuing the ferries should be put to the people in the form of a referendum in the area? Why should not they be allowed to vote on it? It would be a very good idea.
§ Mr. Ogden
It is attractive to say "Let us ask the people in a referendum''. But the people who want to use the ferries have been using them; the people who do not want to use the ferries have not been using them. There has been a daily referendum by the people who use the ferries and by those who do not. Because so few people use the ferries, they are losing money. Everybody may say that we should keep the ferries, but nobody wants to pay for them.
The hon. Member for Wirral says that this is the business of the executive and that it should get on with it or that there should be an inquiry with appeal to the Secretary of State. He says that those are the alternatives. All that the executive was asked to do on Second Reading was to lay down conditions so that the people of Merseyside could have their say at a public inquiry. Everything that hon. Members asked the executive to do on Second Reading has been done. Now the hon. Gentleman has come up with another series of proposals tonight.
Let us suppose that there is a public inquiry under the authority of the county council. If the inspector says "Keep the ferries" and the county council says "Keep the ferries", will the hon. Member for Wirral still want the matter to be referred to the Secretary of State? If the inspector says "Scrap the ferries", but the county council says "Keep the ferries", will the hon. Gentleman want that to be referred to the Secretary of State? If the inspector says "Keep the ferries" and the county council says "Scrap the ferries", will the hon. Gentleman want that to be referred to the Secretary of State?
Is not the hon. Gentleman's intention simply that he does not want the present controllers of the county council to be left with the responsibility for closing the ferries? He wants that responsibility left with my hon. Friend so that instead of the headlines in the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo being "Sir 141 Kenneth Thompson, Merseyside county council chairman, closes the Mersey ferries" they would be "Minister closes the ferries". If it has anything to do with the newspaper the headlines would be "Labour Minister sinks the ferries". Would the hon. Gentleman say under what terms and conditions he wants the right of appeal to the Secretary of State?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I appeal to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) not to make such lengthy interventions, because he is robbing the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) of valuable time to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Did the hon. Gentleman say "in a few days' time, when we come to discuss the amendments"? I admire the hon. Gentleman's sense of humour, but in case he is serious about that I would remind him that if we do not do something before 10 o'clock the whole procedure, will fall. Perhaps that is his intention.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Will the hon. Gentleman have a referendum on that? Where did he get that information?
§ Mr. Hunt
I must obviously be guided by the advice that I have received. But, as I understand it, if we are unable to complete all the stages tonight a further date might be set aside. I understand that this is not a matter for the Chair.
142 It is a matter for the Leader of the House to allocate such a date and then for time to be set aside. In fact, there will be time to discuss Amendment No. 29, which provides for a referendum. I would point out to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby that paragraph 2 of Amendment No. 29 states:The persons holding the public inquiry may take any steps to ascertain public opinion that they consider necessary.I would say to the hon. Member for Walton that I believe that a referendum is an excellent idea, but unfortunately, as I understand, I am prohibited from referring to a matter which falls clearly within the province of one of the amendments to be discussed some time next week, or whatever the day is to be.
I believe that this is very relevant. If a referendum were to be held in Woodside or Seacombe, there is no doubt that there would be an overwhelming majority for keeping the ferries.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have so far found no reference to a referendum in the amendment, but if there is we shall discuss it when we reach the amendment.
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Member for West Derby raised many other points. I was sad that he once again introduced a political argument. I hope that it will not have gone unnoticed by hon. Members that I have copiously sought not to introduce a political argument into the debate. I believe that the ferries are nonpolitical, indeed apolitical. They are an entity about which all parties in all parts of Liverpool feel strongly. The feelings run very deep.
The hon. Member for West Derby said that my objective was to shield Sir Kenneth Thompson, Chairman of the County Council and to expose the Minister. It would be difficult to expose the Minister who is present at the debate tonight because I understand that it would be the Secretary of State for Transport who would make the decision and who would bear the political consequences. However, I do not think there would be any party political consequences. I believe that whoever decides to maintain or close the ferries will get a reaction that will be profound, immediate and deep, but that it will not be along party political lines.
143 I was sad to hear the hon. Member for West Derby make a very nasty point about the Liverpool Echo. Having been a reader of that newspaper since the age of one, in 1943, I believe that that journal steadfastly throughout the years has maintained a strictly non-political approach. Indeed, both that newspaper and its sister the Liverpool Daily Post have maintained a dignity in local affairs by seeking not to make party political points about local issues. That casts a slur on the Liverpool Echo and the Liverpool Daily Post. I give the hon. Member for West Derby the opportunity to withdraw his remark, as I feel he should. Since he obviously will not take that opportunity, I indict him for what he said about those newspapers.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that I had all the assurances which I sought on Second Reading and that they had been responded to in some way or other. I refer the hon. Gentleman to that debate on 24th March 1977. I said to the hon. Member for West Derby:Are there any assurances for which I asked in my speech that the hon. Member is not prepared to give?If I had been given an adequate response to that question, my opposition and my speech tonight would have been unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman then replied:I cannot remember everything that the hon. Member said but I shall carefully read all that was said in the debate and so will members of the MPTE. There will be replies and a continuation of the discussion. This is not my Bill. It is not the Government's Bill and it is not the MPTE's Bill.One might have asked whose Bill it was. The hon. Gentleman continuedIt is the Bill of the hon. Members who represent Merseyside constituencies."—[Official Report, 24th March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1591–2.Having had no real agreement to the original Bill, and having presented this shoddy, nondescript Bill which seeks to close down the ferries at only one month's notice, the lion. Gentleman then had the effrontery to seek to foist the Bill on those hon. Members who represent Merseyside constituencies. That was a nonsense, is a nonsense and will be a nonsense if the hon. Gentleman dares to repeat it in this place when seeking to reply to the debate. I made it quite clear on Second Reading that I felt that the provisions for a local inquiry were inade- 144 quate. You may remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that at that time we had in a sort of dossier or appendage to the Bill—
§ Mr. Hunt
In that case I shall throw away the 30 pages in my notes. I am not saying that I had anticipated your remark, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I was prepared for it.
On Second Reading we had a number of addenda or subsidiary amendments indicated to us in an appendage to the promoters' Bill. We were told what sort of local inquiry was envisaged. I have carefully avoided naming him, but the man I always regarded as being behind the Bill, the now Leader of the Opposition on the Merseyside County Council, described the Bill as providing the sort of local inquiry that is used when local roads are closed. That is probably right. The inquiry procedure that is set out in the Bill provides the same procedure as if someone were closing Wind Street, or whatever street it might be. I have always considered that it is an inadequate procedure. To demonstrate my consistency of approach, I said clearly on Second Reading that I felt strongly that the provisions for a local inquiry were inadequate. I said:The Merseyside County Council then gets the report from the local inquiry. There is nothing in the Bill that would in any way inhibit Merseyside County Council from receiving a report that says quite clearly that the ferries must not be closed and lays down a whole series of statistics and arguments why they should not be closed "—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Hunt
If I had known that the water was with your compliments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should have savoured its taste the longer. I am afraid that I rather bolted it. If it were water from the Mersey, I should be happy to drink it, 145 which is more than I can say for some Labour Members.
On Second Reading I continued:and then saying It is a very interesting document … and we have read it, but we shall close the ferries."—[Official Report, 24th March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1567.]That, I fear, is totally consistent with the arguments that I have endeavoured to put in the time available to me tonight for recognising that the present provisions are inadequate. I have said all along, and I say it again tonight, that if we are seeking to give power to a body, that body has to plead its case effectively. In this instance it has not done so.
The Bill has been before the Committee, but when we examine it we find that there are no real provisions that take into account any of the matters that I raised on Second Reading relating to right of appeal. I indicate my position by a mere reference to an amendment that is to be discussed. I suggested that here should be a two-thirds majority of the council before it could close down the ferries. I felt that that was a reasonable—
§ Mr. Hunt
I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was going to say that I have since realised that that would be very much an innovation for local government. When we examine the derivation of such a necessity—namely, for a two-thirds majority—there is nothing in the Local Government Act 1972 that provides that decisions shall be made by other than a simple majority.
I have tried, as I did on Second Reading, to put forward as constructive an approach as possible by saying "When you, the promoters of the Bill, decide to close the ferries, you should be asked to accept that, if you make a decision that overturns the recommendations of a full public inquiry, you should do so only if there is a right of appeal to the Secretary of State that can be effectively, easily and cheaply exercised."
I confess that I have been heartened tonight by the amount of support that I have received from hon. Members. I feel that to allow the Bill to be considered without making the points that I have made and that no doubt other hon. Members will wish to make would not give a 146 proper indication of the profound distaste with which the Bill is viewed in my constituency and on Merseyside.
I have often heard people say that they do not like the county council making a decision, because it consists of members from St. Helen's making a decision about a matter that affects members from the Wirral.
I am glad that the hon. Member for St. Helens is present. I assure him that I do not make that point. I believe that the citizens of St. Helens, just as the citizens of Birkenhead, are interested in the future as it affects the whole of Merseyside, and not only as it affects their particular area. I see Merseyside as having a corporate identity. People are beginning to identify themselves as Merseysiders. Having lived most of my life on Merseyside, I welcome that view.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I think that the hon. Gentleman got me wrong. I am sorry that he missed the point. I referred to another local authority transport area. In the area where I live the excess fare is charged if anyone travels beyond the distance for which he or she has paid. I have not seen any trouble caused when the staff have called on any member of the public to pay the fare that he or she should have paid.
§ Mr. Hunt
I welcome that intervention, because it gives me the chance of making clear that I was not referring to the speech by the hon. Member for St. Helens when I said "people say". I was referring to comments made to me in my constituency. In the past it used to be said that the citizens of St. Helens cared only about their area. I am desperately pleased that that is no longer true. Nothing said by the hon. Member for St. Helens tonight removes any impression from me at all. Indeed, I concur with his remarks.
Opposition to the Bill is to be found not only in the House, but largely on both sides of the Mersey. The Wirral District Council—I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this matter with its chief executive today—effectively supports what I am seeking to do tonight—namely, to make all the points in a speech that seeks to delay consideration of the Bill. I have had several letters from the Wirral District Council pointing out its attitude and stating that it fears that it 147 is open to the county council, under the provisions of the Bill, to approve an order for closure of the ferries regardless of the recommendation of an independent inspector.
§ Mr. Ogden
I wonder whether two hours and a few minutes after the hon. Gentleman's introductory remarks might be a natural break for him to have a little sip of water. I have made him three offers during the course of his remarks. I wonder whether, having had his fun, we could agree that the loss of £3 million is not a matter that our constituents would regard as very funny. Will the hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on both sides of the House who can maintain or destroy the Bill accept an undertaking that I shall use my best endeavours to get an agreed response from all Merseyside Members of Parliament on both sides of the House for the introduction in the other place of an appeals procedure to the Secretary of State where, after a full public inquiry prescribed by the Bill, the inspector recommends continuance of the ferries but the county council recommends discontinuance of the ferries? In these situations, where there is disagreement about the continuation of the ferries, when the inspector says "Keep them" and the county council says "no", I can do no more than say that I shall try to get agreement. It is the only way that I can see of allowing other hon. Members to have their say. The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) has done his duty to his constituents.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am in a slight embarrassment, because I am a new Member. I do not know how one refers to the existence of people who are sitting in a box and who represent the interests of the promoters. I understand that I should not refer to them at all, and I apologise for doing so. I was seeking to demonstrate to the hon. Member for West Derby that he could walk out of the Chamber, come back and then be able to give a definite undertaking that an appeals procedure will be introduced in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Ogden
I have come prepared for any eventuality. I cannot say that the House of Commons will agree to what the MPTE suggested, because I do not know what the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) would say. I do 148 not know what the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) or the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) would say. I do not know what my hon. Friends would say. All I can say is that I shall do my best to get an agreed procedure. That is the way to keep the Bill. It is for the House of Commons to decide.
§ Mr. Hunt
I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not this rather late? The hon. Member for West Derby is seeking to do something that I do not understand. He is asking me to accept his undertaking to consult with hon. Members about an appeals procedure. He has said that this is a matter for the House. I understand that if we consider the Bill tonight and if it then passes to another place there is no provision for further discussion by hon. Members about the consequences of the undertakings that the hon. Member is seeking to give.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) will have to satisfy himself that the offer being made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) is acceptable. It is a matter for him to decide.
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Where can such an amendment be moved and accepted? If there is no provision, there is no point in discussing it.
§ Mr. Ogden
On Second Reading there was a feeling that some changes should be made. I gave certain undertakings and each was carried through with the exception of one. If the hon. Member for Wirral will allow the Bill to go to Report we shall consider all the voices at that 149 stage and on Third Reading. Third Reading would be the time to save or to kill the Bill, and not at present.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not prepared to withdraw my opposition to the Bill while it still includes provisions for on-the-spot fines.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) is genuinely anxious to help the promoters of the Bill, I think that I ought to indicate, in regard to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby as to where amendments could be made, that it would be in the other place, and such amendments could come back here for consideration. That would be the position.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am very grateful indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that guidance, because I was becoming very confused. As for my opposition to the Bill—and, as I understand it, the opposition of many other people—if the hon. Member for West Derby will confirm that amendments will be introduced in the other place to give effect to a right of appeal to the Secretary of State—as exists in the Wallasey Corporation Act—and to allow such a procedure relating to the Seacombe ferry and the Woodside ferry, I will withdraw my opposition to the Bill. In giving such an undertaking, the hon. Gentleman would be promising me not that the amendments would be passed but merely that they would be introduced by the promoters. It is not for me to say how the other place would consider those amendments, or whether it would approve them. However, the objectivity of the other place gives me confidence that it would accept the amendments.
If the hon. Gentleman cares to stroll from the Chamber for one moment he may get the assurance that he needs. If he undertakes that such amendments will be introduced, my opposition falls, although I cannot speak for other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Ogden
Exactly. In order to help the Bill, as I see it, I give that undertaking to the hon. Gentleman, but immediately someone else bobs up and says "That is exactly the reason why I shall kill the Bill." I am trying to promise 150 only what I can reasonably perform. That is the maxim. Certainly in the other place the hon. Member's predecessor as Member for Wirral would have a very strong voice. I can promise only what I am capable of performing. I shall do my best to make sure that this is introduced. I may upset half a dozen other people, if this is introduced. They may say "That is the reason why we shall destroy the Bill". I cannot take a straw poll or hold a referendum at present, although perhaps hon. Members will nod. Alternatively, I offer a rhetorical question. Arc the Merseyside Members of Parliament who happen to be present tonight in favour of or opposed to the idea of a procedure being introduced in the other place which would bring in, in the circumstances that I have described, an appeal to my right lion. Friend the Secretary of State? One, two, three, four, five—
§ Mr. Hunt
Perhaps I may respond. As I understand it, an hon. Member cannot seek to secure interventions in another hon. Member's speech. I am quite prepared now to accept an intervention if there is another hon. Member in this place who disagrees with me about the proposal that I am seeking to put into the Bill, namely, that there should be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State from a local inquiry, held locally on Merseyside, from the decision of the Merseyside County Council. If there is such an hon. Member present, I am willing to allow him to intervene. Apparently there is not such an hon. Member present.
§ Mr. Ogden rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
There is no confusion. There seems to be a lack of desire to co-operate. Mr. Hunt—to get on.
§ Mr. Loyden
Would the hon. Member agree that the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) concerning consultations was on the basis that a suitable arrangement would be found to deal with the point 151 about an inquiry? Would he further agree that the evasive way in which this has been dealt with means that my hon. Friend could not secure such an undertaking in another place?
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that the other place is typical of the Tory Party. Only it can decide what the other place will do.
§ Mr. Hunt
I know the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas). Suffice it to say that I recognise that he is just the sort of person who would make that kind of remark.
In the first five minutes of my speech I said that if I were to receive an undertaking tonight on behalf of the promoters of the Bill to the effect that they would introduce clauses to give effect to a right of appeal to the Secretary of State my opposition would fall. I cannot speak for other hon. Members. If I received an undertaking that the promoters would introduce such clauses for consideration by the other place—
§ Mr. Ogden
Let me spell it out quite clearly. I introduced this Bill because I thought that it was in the good interests of our constituents on Merseyside. I have used my best endeavours to get the Bill through and made offers that I thought were reasonable. I shall not crawl to the hon. Gentleman to do what I believe to be right for his own constituents.
§ Mr. Hunt
I was not seeking to descend to that level. I disregard that intervention.
Wirral District Council has said clearly that it feels strongly, following a resolution of its Policy and Resources Committee, that opposition to the Bill should be maintained. That is because, although 152 the council raises no objection to the Bill in principle it feels that there should be an amendment to require any closure to be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State following a local public inquiry. I get strong support from the council about my attitude towards the Bill. The council represents a large part of the Wirral peninsula, which includes my constituency. The council has resolved to move a petition against the Bill, to be raised in the other place. The petition seeks to establish what I seek to establish tonight.
It states that the ferries:form an important means of communication across the River Mersey between the Borough of Wirral and the City of Liverpool and have been of considerable benefit to the inhabitants in the borough, some of whom regularly use the ferries as a means of travelling to and from work. Moreover, frequent journeys across that river are made by means of the ferries for commercial, shopping and recreational purposes. The ferries accordingly provide a valuable amenity to the inhabitants of the borough. They have operated over a considerable period of time and were, for a great many years, owned and operated under statutory authority by local authorities in the Wirral peninsula who were predecessors of the present council.They recognise that for financial or other reasons there may be justification for relieving the Executive or some or all of their statutory or other obligations in relation to either or both of the ferries. Accordingly, they raise no objection to such additional power being enacted as may be necessary to enable the removal of those obligations to be authorised if the circumstances justify it, provided such authorisation is made subject to appropriate safeguards.Indeed, the authority points thatOne of the Borough's predecessors in title obtained the requisite powers in connection with Section 158 of the Wallasey Corporation Act 1958 in relation to the Seacombe ferry, the repeal of which section is provided for in the Bill.With reference to that section, the authority points out, as I have pointed out already in this debate, that the Act contains powers to enable the Secretary of State to hold a local inquiry before deciding whether to grant his consent. It submitsthat there is no need for the promotion of the Bill so far as it relates to the Seacombe Ferry since the powers already exist in the form and with the safeguards already approved by Parliament.It accepts thatfurther powers are needed in relation to the Woodside Ferry but submits that they should 153 be in the form now available for and applicable to the Seacombe Ferry.So I get support in that petition for exactly what I have been seeking to do in this debate. I am seeking to ensure that not only my constituents but the constituents of a large number of other Merseyside Members have not just a right to be heard about their ferry but they have a right to be heard effectively about their ferry. Time and again, I have stressed that what I seek to inject into this debate is a sense of realism about the consequences of the provisions as they at present exist in the Bill.
If that local inquiry is held, how can those participating in it feel that it has any relevance, any significance or any power when they know that if they win the day in the inquiry it will be a Pyrrhic victory—a victory that has no consequence, because the county council by a simple majority can override that decision, which it has sought so hard to secure at the local inquiry?
Is it equitable that we should allow to proceed a Bill that seeks to take away from the public a right of appeal to the Secretary of State, that seeks to take away from the public, by repealing that provision in the Wallasey Corporation Act, something that safeguards its powers and its opinion?
Too much legislation goes out of this place—I still seek to be non-party-political, as I have been throughout my speech—which deprives the individual of his rights without securing for him a right of redress. There is too much legislation that denies the ordinary man in the street his right to be heard effectively. Of that we should all be ashamed. If it were passed, the Bill would become one more Act of Parliament which did just that, taking away another right from the public. Surely, my constituents have not only a right to be heard at the local inquiry but a right to seek that all that they fought for at such an inquiry should be given effect to and countenanced. That is what I am asking for.
I have been persuaded by my hon. Friends that I should withdraw all my amendments if I obtained a simple undertaking about that there would be a right of appeal to the Secretary of State. I have always tried to be as reasonable as I can, but in trying to represent the 154 views of my constituents I must have some regard to ensuring that their opinions are taken into account.
As I have said, after an inquiry which might last months, after the costs of representation of the Friends of the Ferries and the many other bodies on Merseyside and elsewhere which are interested, are we saying that the county council can override the decision? We have spent so much time trying to ensure the independence of the inquiry. The promoters have at least met one point by ensuring that the chairman shall be appointed only after the district councils as well as the county council have unanimously approved him, but what is the point when his independent decision can be overridden by a party to the case which has lost? That is what the Bill seeks.
§ Mr. Loyden
Does the hon. Gentleman know to what extent this matter was discussed by the county council before the Bill was introduced?
§ Mr. Hunt
The hon. Gentleman is right to make that point. I seek to make no criticism of the Labour council which introduced the Bill, although in view of the tenor of the debate and the hon. Member's comments, perhaps I am wrong to avoid party political argument. However, there was inadequate consultation. Perhaps that is why the Bill is inadequate and nonsensical. If more thought had been given to it, we might not have had to discuss it tonight.
It has been said that I seek to kill the Bill. Thank goodness no one has inaccurately said that I am filibustering. I have tried throughout to maintain a reasoned approach, dealing with all the arguments made during the debate as they have arisen.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I do not know where the arguments have come from. No one else has taken part in the debate except the Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Hunt
I have had many interventions. If you do not regard them as contributions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you underestimate their effect. Particularly those from the hon. Members for Garston and Walton has been highly relevant.
The result of it all is a Bill badly drafted and based on inadequate consultation. The Committee has done its best, 155 but its abilities were curtailed by a lengthy dispute about the 1972 agreement. We are entitled to ask why there has been such inadequate forethought. This is a shoddy and shameful Bill. No one has persuaded me that it is not a means of closing down our ferries at a month's notice. That is what it provided originally. Ever since it emerged in that form I have doubted the real intention of the MPTE to keep ferries across the Mersey. The supporters of the ferries do not have to prove that they should be maintained. It is up to those who seek to take the ferry services away to prove their case. After the introduction of the Bill, the attitude has been all along that my hon. Friends and I have to prove that the ferries should continue. Surely those who seek to discontinue the ferries should have to prove their case.
§ Mr. Loyden
Is it not a fact and more important, particularly in view of recent happenings in regard to the Mersey railway and the loop line, that the people of Merseyside are entitled to see an efficient, acceptable and workable alternative before the ferry services are discontinued? People have doubts whether the alternative provision will be effective and efficient. Therefore, it is right for people to argue that the ferries should not be discontinued until alternative provision has clearly been made.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I rule that intervention absolutely out of order. We are not dealing with alternatives.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That was the purpose of my ruling. I did not want the intervention to be helpful and allow the hon. Gentleman to continue until 10 o'clock.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I end where I began. The point that I have been trying to make in the time available to me is that the Bill is unnecessary. There is adequate power to discontinue the Seacombe ferry already on the statute book in the Wallasey Corporation Act 1958. That power was used to discontinue the New Brighton ferry. 156 There was no great public outcry at that time that the wrong procedure had been followed, that it had all taken too long. If a procedure has been found to be effective, as it was in the case of New Brighton, why change the procedure? I still have my suspicions that those who seek to promote the Bill do so with a view to terminating the ferry services at one month's notice without adequate public consultation.
If the Leader of the House were unable to provide any more time for discussion of my amendments—if they cannot be discussed tonight—and the Bill were to fall, what would be the consequences? I say that the consequences would be very few. I believe that we should consider the Bill at length, because, and solely because, we are debating a Bill that is unnecessary. Therefore, if we cannot demonstrate by the adequacy of our speeches that the Bill itself is inadequate, we are failing in our duty to our constituents.
§ Mr. Ogden
I am in some doubt who the hon. Gentleman means by "we". There has been only one speaker so far. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is the most expensive Member for Wirral in the history of the constituency. He is costing it about £1 million an hour. He is right to use the procedures of the House in a cause about which he feels strongly. Whether he thinks that it is democratic to do so is for him to decide. He has done a good job, according to his lights. Is it not time that we reached a decision whether to consider the Bill? If the hon. Gentleman will not agree with that, the responsibility will be his and that of his hon. Friends, but it will be predominantly his.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not appeal to me for guidance on that matter.
§ Mr. Hunt
I received a tremendous amount of guidance from you tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for which I am extremely grateful. I understand that it is not in order for me to comment on the adequacy of the guidance unless I am praising it, but I do so without any qualification.
157 The hon. Member for West Derby said that I had not permitted others to participate in the debate, but I was not aware of any great feeling against my talking for what 1 consider, given the complexity of the subject, to be a relatively short time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful to hear that hon. Members concur in that view.
I am trying to demonstrate that the Bill is unnecessary. I have already shown that there is adequate power to discontinue the Seacombe ferry and I believe that it would be quite easy for the Merseyside County Council and the MPTE to carry out a feasibility study
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 31 (Majority for Closure).
§ Question again proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 60, Noes 38.157
|Division No. 190]||AYES||[9.41 p.m.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Horam, John||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Snape, Peter|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hunter, Adam||Stallard, A. W.|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Kerr, Russell||Stoddart, David|
|Concannon, J. D.||Lamond, James||Strang, Gavin|
|Cowans, Harry||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Cryer, Bob||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Tinn, James|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||McCartney, Hugh||Urwin, T. W.|
|Deakins, Eric||McElhone, Frank||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Maclennan, Robert||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Eadie. Alex||Milian, Rt Hon Bruce||Whitlock, William|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Woodall, Alec|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Woof, Robert|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Noble, Mike|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Parker, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Pavitt, Laurie||Mr. Eric Ogden and|
|Harper, Joseph||Pendry, Tom||Mr. Richard Crawshaw|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Hooley, Frank||Small, William|
|Allaun, Frank||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Shersby, Michael|
|Bates, Alf||Jopling, Michael||Skinner, Dennis|
|Beith, A. J.||Lawson, Nigel||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Loyden, Eddie||Spearing, Nigel|
|Cormack, Patrick||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Sproat, lain|
|Crouch, David||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Mills, Peter||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Newens, Stanley||Welder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Dykes. Hugh||Newton, Tony||Ward, Michael|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh, N)||Penhaligon, David||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Forman, Nigel||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Mr. Graham Page and|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Mr. David Hunt|
§ debate. I have tried to be as constructive as possible. I hope that those who seek to promote the Bill will recognise that from the outset—indeed, on Second Reading—I have sought to ensure provision for adequate consultation of the public. It is wrong to remove provisions to repeal existing enactments which allow for a proper public inquiry with an appeal to the Secretary of State and not replace them with something as effective or more effective in gauging public opinion.159
§ As I said before the closure, I do not believe that there will be any serious consequences as a result of the failure of the Bill to be considered tonight. I hope that time will be provided on another day to continue this very interesting debate. However, as I have said, I believe that there is no necessity for the Bill. It is badly drafted legislative nonsense. Many aspects of it are positively detrimental. But, above all, it is not necessary for safeguarding considerations of public expenditure or the people using the transport system in Merseyside. The Bill has a large number of defects and I have sought to oppose them, but I have tried to put in their place better provisions to safeguard public opinion and the need to provide for effective public opinion.
§ If the Bill does not reach the statute book, the consequences will not be serious. I have stressed time and again that there is provision for closure of the Seacombe ferry. I am bemused by the fact that the Bill was thought necessary at all, especially with regard to the Seacombe ferry. In fact, as I have tried to demonstrate, there is already adequate provision for the closure of the Seacombe ferry, but only after there has been a public inquiry and only after there is an appeal to the Secretary of State.
§ The MPTE could tomorrow, whether or not this Bill gets on to the statute book, seek to make an order discontinuing the Seacombe ferry. But it can do so only provided that there is adequate consultation for the public. The MPTE could tomorrow decide—I hope that it does—to conduct an in-depth study into the ferry services and, indeed, the whole transportation system on Merseyside. If it does, I hope that it will find some constructive way of keeping Liverpool's ferry services.
I well understand the hon. Gentleman emphasising the ferry situation and pointing out that the legislation, with regard to ferries, is not necessary. For those hon. Members who are concerned with the provisions in the Bill dealing with over-riding, will the hon. Gentleman say whether he considers that this legislation is necessary? This is an important question.
§ Mr. Hunt
I am very pleased to hear so many hon. Members assent to that 160 point of view because it is precisely the one that I have tried to press in the time which has been available to me. I have felt throughout that proper thought has not gone into the Bill. I have tried to describe what the consequences would be if the Bill does not proceed. In doing so I have tried to demonstrate that the consequences are not harmful in any way to the users, the transportation system, the taxpayers or the ratepayers because Seacombe ferry can be closed down. The ferry services as such can be varied. The times, the castings, the fares, can be changed without the need to come to this place.
I am concerned to ensure that we maintain a "Ferry 'cross the Mersey" for as long as we possibly can. As long as I am a Member of this House I want to see a "Ferry 'cross the Mersey", not just for sentimental reasons but because I believe that the ferries provide a service which the users of the service at present, as well as my constituents and those of other hon. Members—indeed, the people of Merseyside—wish to retain.
The ferries are part of our Merseyside heritage. To wipe them away at a stroke, as the Bill originally sought to do, is a disgraceful misuse of parliamentary time. I have tried to moderate my language tonight. [Interruption.] I hear a leaf rustling from below the Gangway. It is something that I shall treasure for many years to come because throughout the debate I have found the interventions of hon. Members, whether from a sedentary or from an upright position, to be extremely helpful. I pay tribute to all those hon. Members for making adequate points.
But it comes back to the fact that this House should not allow to be considered tonight a Bill which deprives the public of an effective right to make their voices heard. As I have said, I have tried to be as reasonable as possible throughout the debate. If at any stage I had received the undertaking that I sought I would have sat down well satisfied. I hope that when we continue the debate we shall have a Bill worthy of the title Merseyside Passenger Transport Bill—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.