§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ [Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Duchy of Lancaster, signified.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ Mr. Ogden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Question was put from the Chair and put to the vote and two of us called, we should make a decision. If it was not, perhaps you will allow one hon. Member to move it before you agree to one hon. Member opposing it. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) should not tell me what goes on in Merseyside. He should look after Rochdale.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Not having heard what the hon. Gentleman proposes to say, I can hardly rule on what he is saying.
§ Mr. Alton
I should like to draw the attention of the House to part II, lines 7 to 31, of schedule 3 to the County of Merseyside Bill. I attempted to move an amendment deleting the sections that deal with the Corporation of Liverpool Act 1966 that is now being enacted through this Bill. That amendment, unfortunately, was not accepted. I feel so strongly about these clauses and their implications that I must take the opportunity of opposing this section of the Bill even though I agree with many points in the Bill.
I have been opposed to the concept of a Liverpool inner ring road since it was introduced in place of the former Liverpool inner motorway scheme. I opposed the Bill when I was a member of the Merseyside county council. I 346 opposed the Bill on the Liverpool city council, of which I am still a member. I petitioned the Bill when it went to another place 18 months ago. I applied successfully for an Adjournment debate, and was grateful for the opportunity to air the matter.
We have progressed no further because, at this last-ditch attempt, we are about to enact a Bill that will deprive citizens of the opportunity of a public inquiry to air their grievances against the construction of the road. It is better to have a city without byelaws than a city that has a Berlin wall through its centre.
The Bill removes the right of public inquiry for hundreds and hundreds of citizens whose businesses and homes will be demolished to make way for a scheme that will cost £40 million. That staggering cost is to be embarked upon at a time when ratepayers are being asked to find a 65 per cent. increase if they live in the city of Liverpool.
It is about time that the Merseyside county council came out of its dream world into the real world. It is about time that the Government ended the longest running farce in local government by scrapping the scheme once and for all. The scheme was conceived in the 1960s by politicians and planners with delusions of grandeur. At that time it was to have been called an inner motorway. It, and schemes like it, accounted for the loss of 100,000 people from the centre of Liverpool. They were shanghaid to towns and suburbs outside the city. The scheme was opposed by my colleagues on the Liverpool city council. The campaign was led by Councillor Trevor Jones and his wife Doreen, who is the Lord Mayor of Liverpool.
Those thrown out of the city found themselves left in wildernesses where they were unhappy. The scheme was a dream which turned into a nightmare. The scheme was dropped ultimately by the county council, but not for long. It revamped it in different clothing and it returned as the Liverpool inner ring road.
Among its chief promoters was the then chairman of the highways and tunnels committee, Councillor Hubert Harriman, whose firm was involved in its design. It was paid a fee of £50,000. The 347 county council was denied access to documents which discredited the scheme. The documents were drawn up by staff of the county planning officer and the county engineer. They were not given to county councillors, on the ground that they would find them too complicated to understand.
I have with me a copy of technical document No. 25, which was not made available to county councillors when they considered the scheme. I have referred to the document before. I am sorry to have to bore the Minister with the same argument, but I hope that he will be more convinced on this occasion than he was on the previous occasion. I wish to allude to sections of the document to substantiate my case. My opinions are those of a layman and politician who has consistently opposed the scheme. It is far better to give the opinions of those who have some professional knowledge.
The report states:Chapter 27 presents the results of an identification survey of all existing private sector businesses (excluding public houses) which will be displaced by the development of the Inner Ring Road, together with the results of an interview survey with approximately one-third of them. The scheme examined will displace 52 firms employing 400–450 persons.That, in a city where about 12 per cent. of the population is without work. The report continues:An additional displacement of 12 firms (approximately 100 jobs) is possible if identified options are implemented. Job losses are heaviest among manufacturing, building and joinery, and other service firms and are concentrated in the Berry Street and Jamaica Street areas. We estimate that of the 400–450 jobs probably displaced, 55 per cent. might be retained in the central or inner areas. Fifteen per cent. might be retained in Liverpool and 30 per cent. lost to the local economy.The firms affected were interviewed by the county council and they said that they would face 100–200 per cent. increases in rents if they were relocated.
It might be said in favour of the road that it could provide job opportunities in Liverpool, as people might be needed for the construction of the road. It might be argued also that it would improve accessibility to factories, firms and sites in the city. However, the report disproved those theories.
348 The report continues:the loss of any further jobs must be regarded as a serious disbenefit in the context of inner Liverpool … accessibility is not a major problem for the firms interviewed and any improvements could only have limited benefits for them. A company's level of activity and operating costs are determined by a number of factors, among which access and transport costs are not particularly significant. The savings in costs and time associated with a road of this type are minimal at the level of individual firms, and there is no evidence that the activities of the firms would be affected in any substantial way. … The industrial image of inner Liverpool, as seen by firms operating there, is almost entirely negative and the Ring Road could have an impact on this in two ways.The report discusses the significance that the road might have on the city's image. It states:There is little evidence to support the view that this form of public sector investment would create confidence in the area and stimulate private investment. … The most effective assistance from the public sector to firms operating in the area would seem to be the provision of sites, the creation of an atmosphere of security, financial assistance, and motorway links.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's arguments with great care. It is obviously a matter about which he feels strongly. He and other hon. Members are concerned about all that is happening in Liverpool and Merseyside. However, does he not agree that the question of the inner ring road, important though it is, is not really a subject with which it is correct to occupy the House at this time on this particular day? The Bill is virtually a co-ordinatory and consolidatory Bill of byelaws going back many years.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain how the arguments about the inner ring road, to which we have listened with great interest—we know his interest in espousing the cause at every opportunity—fit into the debate. Will he move on to his objection to the Bill?
§ Mr. Alton
No, certainly not. If the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) had been present at the beginning of my remarks, he would have heard me say why I am expressing my opposition in this way and why I am having to use this opportunity yet again to raise these arguments about the inner ring road.
349 If the hon. Gentleman were really concerned about those living in his constituency, he would wish to try to save them from the 65 per cent. rate increase that they will probably be inflicted with this year. He would be trying to save the further displacement of jobs. This is it not my argument but that of the Merseyside county council's planning department. The argument is contained in its private technical report. If the hon. Gentleman were really concerned about the state of inner Liverpool—he has frequently talked about empty sites and the need to clear up derelict land—he would be trying to do something to bring firms back on to the sites. He would be arguing against the building of a road that nobody wants.
Liverpool may have problems, but traffic congestion is not one of them. If Liverpool were given £40 million to spend in other ways, life and vitality could be brought back into the city. The hon. Gentleman is suggesting the worst form of municipalisation. He and others who support the road will steal the businesses and the homes of those living in the inner city. They will be displaced as 100,000 others were displaced before them. That is an almost criminal act.
§ Mr. Ogden
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it entirely in order, according to the rules and conventions of the House, that an hon. Member should accuse another hon. Member of stealing the livelihood and the business of anyone else? I think we know what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) means, but perhaps he can frame his point in slightly different language.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not casting any aspersions upon the honour of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). I think that the hon. Gentleman was making a debating point.
§ Mr. Alton
Thank you Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would never cast any aspersion on the honour of the hon. Member for Wavertree. I am sometimes concerned about his sanity but not about his honour. In the context of the discussion of the Liverpool inner ring road I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman has consistently supported the project when most of his constituents, the Liverpool 350 city council and local newspapers have courageously advocated their opposition to it all the way along the line. I do not believe that in that sense he represents local opinion.
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)
Will the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) also point out that alongside the opposition to the ring road from the Liberal Party in Liverpool the Labour Party there also opposes it as does the Communist Party? The only party that supports it is the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Alton
I do not have the links that I know Liverpool Labour Party often has with the Communists, so I do not know what the Communist view is. The hon. Member for Scotland Exchange has been a consistent opponent of this road and I congratulate him on that. It is true that the Liverpool borough Labour Party, having supported the concept of the Liverpool motorway scheme under the leadership at that time of Councillor, now Lord Sefton, later took a different view. It is quite right that it did come round to our way of thinking and opposed this scheme and I congratulate it.
It was pointed out in the report of the technical officers that the most effective assistance from the public sector to the firms operating in the area would be the provision of sites, the creation of an atmosphere of security, financial assistance and motorway links. The primary requirements of firms coming to inner Liverpool are sites and a suitable supply of labour. The report points out that if the road goes ahead 4 per cent. less land will be available for new development and that a 22 per cent. greater loss of existing development land will be sustained. Both options contained in the inner ring road scheme result in more than—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interupt the hon. Gentleman but will he please let the Chair know to which part of the Bill he is referring? I cannot find anything in it about ring roads.
§ Mr. Alton
I am referring, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to schedule 3, part II, consequential amendments in the Liverpool Corporation Act 1966 and schedule 4, lines 35 to 37 of that Act. The powers 351 in the Bill are those required to continue the implementation of the 1966 Act in acquiring properties for the construction of the Liverpool inner ring road.
§ Mr. Steen
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The argument used by the hon. Member for Edge, Hill deals with the powers provided by the Bill. Those powers could be powers to provide anything from power stations to small firms. The hon. Member is talking about powers and trying to use that as an opportunity to debate anything he wishes. What the hon. Member is talking about has nothing to do with the Bill. He is using time that this Bill could command to exploit a particular point. The point may concern him and many other people, but he is discussing it at the wrong time and in the wrong place.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is perfectly in order for the hon. Gentleman to draw attention to the use of the powers. I take it that that is what he is doing. I have not had an opportunity of checking the Liverpool Corporation Act 1966, to which the hon. Member has drawn my attention, but I am sure that he is correct in what he has said.
§ Mr. Alton
I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is the appropriate legislation which was enacted 14 years ago with the express purpose of constructing the inner motorway. It is to that point that I shall come in a short time. However, I should like to go back to what I said before. Both options result in more than 240,000 sq. metres of currently vacant land and 100,000 sq. metres of temporarily used land coming into use for a road, and not for small businesses or homes or to improve the quality of the environment. It is simply for a road that will go nowhere and which no one will ever use.
§ Mr. Steen
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that there are 1,800 acres of vacant, dormant and derelict land in the Liverpool boundaries and that about 900 acres are in the hands of nationalised industries, such as British Rail and the gas authority, as well as the local authority? It is right to say that the ring road will use some of that land, but surely it is better to use some of the vacant land for 352 some purpose than to use none of it for any purpose.
§ Mr. Alton
That is a crazy argument. It is rather like saying that we should build igloos throughout the city of Liverpool because it would be a way of spending money. The attitude that money grows on trees, and that one should just throw money away without worrying about the quality of the work one does, is the sort of atitude which has got Liverpool in the mess which it is in because of successive Conservative and Labour administrations there.
I again quote from the technical report, which states:The valuation and job opportunity analyses confirm the above. Marginal improvements in land value as a result of easier assembly of sites, the availability of services and some improved access if the road is built is not likely to be sufficient to offset real value losses as a result of demolition".
Those are the views of the county council's own planning department, which were ignored by the Merseyside county council itself. In its conclusion the report states:In sum, consideration of these four areas of major economic impact suggest that it will be difficult to quantify, or ever identify, substantial economic development benefits that will lead to increases in industrial and commercial activity and levels of employment either among indigenous firms or as a result of attracting new firms to inner Liverpool. The main areas of benefit are likely to be confined to the construction sector and on the few remaining development sites which can be assembled and released".
In other words, the benefits would be very superficial indeed, but the long term damage to the city would be considerable.
I now turn to the arguments that were put forward in favour of the road by the county engineer.
§ Mr. Steen
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has a duty to confine himself to the clauses in the Bill. He has cited the schedule, which sets out the powers which the county council may have to do any number of things. He is now reading an article dealing with the inner ring road, which he says is one of the powers which the county council could use to build an inner ring road. It could build anything it liked. But this has nothing to do with the Bill that is before us. The county council may or may not use a power in the 353 schedule of the Bill to do something which the hon. Gentleman does not want to happen.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can instruct me as to what his position is in the matter.
§ Mr. Alton
Again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I refer to part II of schedule 3—consequential amendments to the Bill—which appears on page 138. Those are the powers that are to be vested in the Merseyside county council to acquire properties in order to proceed with the construction of the Liverpool inner ring road.
I am trying to give the House some idea of the disadvantages to the city of Liverpool of constructing the road. I have referred to the arguments placed before the county council by its own staff. I now come to the views of the city planning officer. They are all arguments why we should not proceed with the construction of the road and, therefore, why we should not proceed with the acquisition of property in order to build it.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
So far I have been reluctant to interrupt. I thought that it was better to let the hon. Gentleman make his speech. However, he moved immediately into arguments against building the road. I hope that he accepts that the decision to build the road is entirely a local authority matter. It is a matter for the Merseyside county council, as the responsible highway authority. This is not a trunk road for which the Government are responsible. It is not a project for which the Government are answerable to the House or are in any way directly involved. We give a grant for it, but no more. The last time we had an Adjournment debate on this matter, in July, the hon. Gentleman made exactly the same quotations from the same report, which he has been using for many years in Liverpool. I thought he conceded that this matter was to be decided in the chamber of the Merseyside county council. It has nothing to do with Westminster, or our role as Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Alton
I totally disagree with this Pontius Pilate style of government, where people want to wash their hands of responsibility. As £40 million of ratepayers and taxpayers' money is being spent, we 354 have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that that money is wisely spent. The Government could withdraw the grant to the county council if they did not think that this was a wise road scheme. This evening we have the opportunity, by opposing the Bill, to prevent the road going ahead. Therefore, Parliament is the arbiter. Parliament finally decides. That is why I petitioned the other place and why I tried to stop the road from proceeding.
The key argument was put by the county engineer in a report written by Ian Craig, the local government editor of the Liverpool Daily Post last year. He wrote:The key argument used by county engineer Mr. Ronald Williams to justify such a major ring road is the prediction that by 1998, despite dropping population and jobs, a 43 per cent. increase in city centre traffic would produce widespread congestion'.
In fact, according to statistics prepared by the ring road team itself, the growth in traffic may be as low as 11 per cent. and the most it could be would be 43 per cent.
The city planning officer, disputing the county's predictions, says a basic weakness is the use of the maximum possible increase.
'Growth estimates of between 11 per cent. and 43 per cent. by 1998 were produced, yet the figure of 43 per cent. growth is used without question in the report as a basis for justifying the need for the ring road,' says Mr. Evans.
And he says that such long-term forecasts are 'notoriously unreliable' anyway and points to remarks made by the county's own planning department, saying there is uncertainty about forecasting things like the number of cars.
Other points Mr. Evans makes are:That the London Road shopping area would be seriously hit by the ring road with most of its shops removed.
That the road would mean unnecessary job losses, with at least 50 firms hit, and would harm the environment.
He also says that despite the ring road's planned size, it would not necessarily even speed up traffic movement.
Mr. Evans says he would be apprehensive if the city agreed to the present ring road plan which would be 'wasteful, representing a misuse of financial resources'.
He feels an honourable compromise to outright opposition, which could create more uncertainty, would be to scrap the grand plans and simply improve some of the present roads.Those are the views of the city planning officer.
The method employed in the Bill to deny people the right of basic appeal and 355 public inquiry before their properties are stolen from them is tantamount to using totalitarian methods. The reports were suppressed. Neither the city councillors nor the county councillors had that information before them when they arrived at their decision. We should send the Bill back for further consideration, on the basis that people were misled and did not have that information.
Far more important, this is a monstrous denial of rights. It is a different scheme, affecting different properties. When Parliament granted these powers 14 years ago it certainly did not intend them to be used in this high-handed way. It is an iniquitous Bill, which threatens the basic rights of British citizens. It allows homes and businesses to be stolen and bulldozed without the right to public inquiry. For that reason I oppose the Bill, despite the fact that there are many clauses in it with which I obviously agree. I would rather have the city in its present condition, dealing with its present byelaws, than see the Bill implemented with this iniquitous clause in it. It creates a disgraceful situation in the city of Liverpool.
§ Mr. David Hunt (Wirral)
On a point of order. Does the hon. Member not think that it is rather irresponsible to raise this matter at such a late stage, and could he perhaps explain to the House why, when making a petition to the House of Lords, he did not appear to his petition? In the Minutes of that Committee there is a call for him to appear and when he did not do so the Chairman reluctantly had to strike out his petition. Was that not the stage at which he should have made the objections that he is now making?
§ Mr. Alton
I apologise to the hon. Member. It seemed to me that he had taken his seat just at that moment. It seemed to me that to come here and suggest in this way that I have not consistently opposed this scheme is ludicrous, when I pointed out at the beginning of 356 my speech my consistent record in opposing it. I did indeed write to the other place and place before it—the hon. Member has my letter in his hand—an outline of my objections. I have constantly given my reasons for opposition to this scheme.
It would be far better for us tonight to agree to the removal of these clauses and to allow the Bill to go through. This would be a responsible move on our part. I did attempt to amend the Bill, as the hon. Member for Wirral well knows.
He knows that I moved an amendment that was not selected, for reasons that Mr. Speaker can give himself and that I fully understand. Nevertheless, the amendment was moved and I attempted to have a special debate on this specific subject. That being so, I had no choice this evening but to state my opposition in this way.
I do feel strongly about £40 million being squandered when, in my constituency, we have 30 per cent. Unemployment—12 per cent. in the city—when home helps and meals on wheels services are being closed down, teachers are being sacked, and many local government services are to be cut.
§ Mr. Alton
I take your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was perhaps provoked.
I am opposed to this frivolous scheme for these reasons. Conservative Members talk so often about spending people's money wisely. I wish that on this occasion they would think in terms of making one expenditure cut which would be welcomed by the people of Liverpool.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
I thank the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) for that warm expression of feeling. I do not know whether it was directed at me or at the passing of his hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith
It is not that I am grateful; it is simply that I believe in hon. Members having the right to speak.
§ Mr. Ogden
The purpose of this debate, as I understand it after having served some time in this House, is to provide an opportunity for the House to debate the Third Reading of this Bill and to decide whether to give it a Third Reading. It is not in our power to decide to delete any part of the Bill. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) is perfectly entitled to do whatever he likes, within parliamentary procedure, to withhold or to give his support. I suggest that he is fighting what is perhaps the right battle—about the inner ring road—but on the wrong battlefield. I will explain that in a little while.
The question is whether we should give the Bill—this modest tome of 16 parts, 146 sections, five schedules, and 149 pages—which has been around the corridors of the Palace of Westminster since 1978, a Third Reading. If anyone in Merseyside asks a Merseyside Member what he did in the Parliaments of 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980, he can say that he considered the County of Merseyside Bill, and that should be more than sufficient explanation.
The Bill has been considered and debated. It has been dissected and put together again. It has had more consideration than has any other piece of legislation in the past 15 years. If Government legislation were given half the scrutiny that the Bill has received, it would be much better. During the parliamentary progress of the Bill the past chairman of the county council, now Lord Sefton, the present chairman of the county council, Sir Kenneth Thompson, a former Member of the House, the parliamentary agents, the Officers of the House and the officers of the county council have been readily available to Merseyside Members of Parliament and to Members of Parliament from all parts of the country, to discuss difficulties with them, agree alterations and improvements and to allay understandable and perhaps ill-founded worries and fears about the Bill's finer points.
The Bill renews the powers of the county council which lapsed because of an Act of Parliament. It is no empire-building exercise by the county council. The hon. Member for Edge Hill seems to have overlooked the fact that the Bill provides for a considerable degree of discretion on how the powers that remain 358 in the hands of the county council are used. That is a key point. From now on, how the Bill is used by the Merseyside county council for the people of Merseyside on Merseyside must be decided in Merseyside and not in the House.
During the past 15 years no one has accused me or my hon. Friends of being careless about the spending of public money. There are times when decisions have to be taken locally and times when they have to be taken here. How the Bill is used should be decided on Merseyside, not in the House of Commons. My electors did not send me to Westminster, 200 miles away, so that I should run from Westminster the Merseyside district council or county council elections. Merseyside Members of Parliament will continue to take an interest in the Bill and in what happens to it outside, just as we have taken a keen interest in it from inside the House. The sooner it is realised that county councils are supposed to be run by county councillors and district councils by district councillors, and that we in Westminster cannot significantly affect or decide the day-to-day running of the councils, the better it will be for local government and Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Alton
We are considering a Bill that takes away a right of public inquiry. It takes away the right of members of the public to appeal against the acquisition of their homes and businesses. Should not that be a concern of Merseyside Members of Parliament? Does the hon Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) support those clauses?
§ Mr. Ogden
Yes, because I believe that if the people of Merseyside allow a certain county council to be elected, that is their responsibility, right and duty. If they decide that a certain district council should be elected, that is their decision which I would try to influence, but surely we do not have local councils so that Members of Parliament can tell them what to do. It might be part of the philosophy of the hon. Member for Edge Hill to tell his electors that he will sort out their roads, their grids and so on. We have an interest in it, but it is not the duty of a Member of Parliament to decide the day-to-day administration of local government. If we do that, why bother to have a county council? Why 359 bother to have a district council? Let it all be run from Merseyside. I could be appointed commissioner for Merseyside tomorrow and I should be delighted, but I do not know what others would think. We should not be told that we have the duty of influencing decisions without power to carry them through.
§ Mr. Ogden
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry) moved it and I wrote it down. But it is not the person who makes the decisions who decides what happens but the person who writes down the decisions a month or so later. Of course we are agreed on this. All I am saying is that I have grave doubts. This matter has to be dealt with on Merseyside and not across the Floor of the House.
The county council offices are just as bad. There were rumours—we know that this is a place of rumour and great mystery—that the hon. Member for Edge Hill was supposed to have tabled a blocking motion and that the whole Bill would go because he did not like one part of it. The reaction of the county council was to panic—it has a thing about the hon. Member for Edge Hill. My good lady thinks that he is lovely. I could suggest that she needs another pair of spectacles, but that is something else. But the county council offices start sending in screeds of detail about the inner ring road, and of course it will be useful but not in the House of Commons unless we decide, as well we might, to abolish the county councils and the district councils and sort everything out here. That is the choice.
I was not elected to run the offices of the district, city or county council, but I shall have my say back on Merseyside 360 later. I do not usually swear and would not be allowed to do if I wanted to, but I consider that one-third of the time of any Member of Parliament from Merseyside is spent on local government or county council matters that officially have nothing to do with a Member of Parliament. Houses, gates, roads and the rest are very important—
§ Mr. Ogden
They form part of the schedule to the third section of the fifth part—and so on.
If we spend our time doing the work of others, there will be much less time to spend on our real job. Our duty is supposed to be to support or oppose a Government and to scrutinise legislation. Our duty is supposed to be to act as the parliamentary voice for our constituents. If we spend time doing the job of city or county councillors, there is less time to attend to our primary job.
The hon. Member for Edge Hill has doubtless filled the front, middle and back pages of the Liverpool Daily Post and the Liverpool Echo. He has confirmed his reputation in some areas. There are times when he and I agree and work closely together. But, though he is involved in the right battle, he is in the wrong place tonight. This Bill has had more time, more detailed attention, more changes and alterations than any piece of legislation I know. In the previous debate I called it the Eliza Doolittle of legislation; we have grown accustomed to her face.
There are other battles that have to be fought but not here. That is the only difference between myself and the hon. Member for Edge Hill tonight. The Bill and its use must be decided by Merseyside people in Merseyside for Merseyside. We have our part to play in that, not here in Westminster but back home. I hope that the House will give the Bill a deserved and unopposed Third Reading.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I am aware that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) does not like to seek any limelight, wish to receive any publicity or be heard on the radio. He merely wishes to use this debate to further a point that he fervently believes is relevant to the Bill and on which he feels that the House should hear his arguments on Third Reading. It is quite clear that he is exploiting the situation, and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have been extremely tolerant of the approaches in his speech which have been out of order and made at the wrong time. I wish to put on record that the hon. Gentleman is trying to advance an argument, interesting though it may be, which has nothing to do with the Bill. It may be interesting in his county council's chamber or on the streets of his constituency, but it is not appropriate in this place.
I hope that the House will reject his suggestion that the whole of the Merseyside Bill, which has been fighting to get on the statute book for one and a half years, should be delayed still further. The hon. Gentleman—perhaps understandably—has a penchant for objection to the inner ring road. The hon. Gentleman is not alone in his condemnation of the ring road. However, from discussions in my constituency, I can tell the House that au equal number of people are for the inner ring road. His analysis of the situation in Merseyside is totally wrong.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the waste of public land by the use and the building of a ring road. He does not seem to realise that the cities of Europe and North America are dependent on good infrastructure and that the purpose of the ring road is to provide, as the underground system now provides, a basic infrastructure. We hope that that infrastructure will start to attract small firms and some of the larger firms back into the inner area.
§ Mr. Steen
The hon. Gentleman does not understand how the rates have in- 362 creased over the last decade because of Governments who have driven people out of the inner city by demolishing private homes and small firms. That means that there is less rateable land and that less rates are paid to the city treasurer's department to create prosperity and provide the services that are needed to sustain the inner area.
§ Mr. Steen
No, I do not. That argument is completely misguided. The building of the road will create a termendous amount of employment, and it will offer a lifeline for Liverpool to create the necessary infrastructure. It will allow the derelict land of about 1,800 acres—900 acres of which is in the hands of nationalised industries and local authorities—to be built upon. It will encourage the building of homes and factories. Opposition Members who pursue that argument should remember that small firms were driven from the inner areas to the green field sites and 100,000 jobs were moved from the inner to the outer areas over the last 10 years by the programmes of successive Governments. The inner ring road is an attempt to reverse that drift.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge-hill, may not agree that it would cause people to come back to live in the inner city, but that is the purpose of the scheme. We could debate that matter at another time and in another place. However, I must put on record that the analysis of the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. He believes that using a little of the derelict land will drive out the remaining firms. The reason why firms are being driven out is that the buildings that remain in Liverpool have an artificially high rent that is caused by scarcity. Firms are being driven out because the rate base is so diminished that rates have to be artificially high.
Taking a bit of land for the inner ring road will not make the situation worse for small firms. It will create the essential infrastructure to encourage a return of wealth and job creation to an ailing inner area.
363 The hon. Gentleman would like to see the continual slide of the inner area. His is a recipe for disaster. Although he has the best possible intentions, his assessment of the problem is misguided.
§ Mr. Alton
It is unfair of the hon. Gentleman to accuse any hon. Member of deliberately trying to create a slide towards decay in an area that he represents—and lives in. I have been a councillor in the area for about eight years. I like to think that I am concerned to try to help its vitality.
I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to be convinced only by my arguments. He should, however, accept the arguments of the county council's technical team, whose report I read earlier, and the city planning officer, who could be regarded as some kind of authority, and the views of the elected representatives of the Liverpool city council. They do not come from the lush green pastures of Formby or the Wirral but are on the local authority dealing with the area. The hon. Gentleman disagrees with the view of the elected representative for the major area affected—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry)—and many others who feel strongly about the issue. He treats such views as if they were totally irrelevant.
§ Mr. Steen
We are debating a side issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. I rose merely to show that his was one of a number of views. His assessment and analysis of the problems of a city that we both represent may not be those of all hon. Members or widely held in a city of nearly half a million people. Although it has been an interesting exchange, it is wrong to use the Floor of the House to debate an issue that has nothing to do with the Bill.
I firmly believe in the ring road. It is the last chance for Liverpool to reverse a declining economic situation. There are 1,800 acres of dormant, vacant land. In the Committee corridor, the urban affairs and new towns group of the Conservative Party has mounted an excellent exhibition. It demonstrates that the inner area has been destroyed. People and small firms have moved out. The agricultural belt and green fields have been eaten away.
364 It is a complex macro-economic and planning problem. The hon. Gentleman approaches it in terms of just an inner ring road. That shows that he does not comprehend urban problems. The inner ring road cannot be viewed in isolation.
I know how dedicated and concerned the hon. Gentleman is. It is unfortunate that he has it wrong tonight.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Scotland Exchange)
I make no apology for supporting the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton).
About seven-eighths of the inner ring road will pass through my constituency. That massive road will completely divide communities and isolate hundreds of people. It will cause council houses to be demolished. When the second Mersey tunnel was built, hundreds of houses were demolished and people had to move from the inner area.
It will be responsible for the demolition of small firms and businesses in the inner area and that will add to unemployment. Unemployment in some parts of my constituency is at nearly 40 per cent. That is an even higher percentage than in Edge Hill. It is tragic. More firms may be moved out of inner areas.
Construction of this road has met with the strongest and most hostile objections that I have known during many years in politics. Political parties are opposed, with the exception of the Conservative Party, to the road. Practically every tenants' association, community council, neighbourhood council, local trades council, trade union, local church—Catholic and Anglican—is opposed to the road. They oppose the destruction of their parishes. People have been born and raised in those areas.
Perhaps I have a vested interest. I was born and raised in the inner area. I still live there. This massive road is to be built in spite of strong opposition from those born and raised there—my neighbours, friends and relatives. Mass rallies have been held all over Liverpool. I assure the House that if the Minister, leader of the county council or anyone else were to attend the meetings and meet the people, they would realise that there is strong opposition right along the line.
365 The inner ring road is in part the responsibility of planners who live in ivory towers. They live in the nice parts of Merseyside—in the Wirral or West Derby. None of them lives in the inner areas. The road will be a nightmare. I completely disagree with the views put forward by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). The road will not return the heart to our city. It will have the opposite effect. There is no real need for a road where it has been planned. The county council should seriously look again at this issue.
Many years ago prime land in the city centre was used for small houses—of the two up and two down type. That land could be used for rebuilding the heart of our city. Houses and small factories will help to bring back jobs. During the next few years the local city council will attempt to demolish 7,000 pre-war tenement blocks. I support that action. Thousands of people will have to be rehoused. Most of them have lived in the inner area all their lives. They still wish to remain in that area. If this land is used in order to build a motorway, it will be impossible to rebuild houses and flats in the inner city area. Where will the people be rehoused?
§ Mr. Steen
Is the lion. Gentleman aware that as many of the older houses have already been demolished, the population has been transferred to vast soulless council estates? The hon. Gentleman must have seen them. Those tenants all wish to return to small houses in the inner area. Whenever the council destroys, it makes a worse mess. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that should happen again?
§ Mr. Parry
Many years ago, local councillors for the central ward had meetings with Bill Sefton, now a noble Lord, when he was leader of Liverpool city council, before the county council was formed. We got a definite understanding that land that is now to be used for the inner ring road would, in fact, be used for building houses. Now the land has been taken away. Now there is no possibility of making some of the smaller parishes and some of the local schools viable. Some of the schools do not have enough youngsters attending them to make them viable. In spite of all the opposition the county council insists on 366 pressing on like a mad bull, pushing aside all objections of the people.
At a recent meeting of the county council a small group of objectors attended. Because members of that group demonstrated, they were ejected from the Liverpool town hall. I was ejected with them, and so were two local priests who were supporting them. I know that recently Sir Ken Thompson has done a U-turn on the question of the developing council and I hope that he will be big enough to consider another U-turn and recommend to the county council that it should scrap this road that nobody wants—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."] I say that the road is not wanted by anybody and I have talked to a cross-section of the community, local organisations and associations and I am sure that if a petition was presented at least 100,000 people would sign it.
§ Mr. Ogden
I agree with a great many things that my hon. Friend says, but surely the most effective way to change the policy of the county council is to change its elected membership. Too often local people sit at home during local elections and allow anybody to be elected—and we all know that the percentage turn-out for local elections is very small—and then they appeal to Members of Parliament to do the councillors' job for them. Local people take responsibility for electing their Members of Parliament and they should take the same responsibility for electing members of their district and county councils.
§ Mr. Parry
I shall not follow my hon. Friend down that road now. I feel very strongly about this issue and I led a deputation to the then Secretary of State last year. He listened to these people and we all watched a first-class film on the proposed inner ring road and the effect that it would have on people living there. I have asked that the present Parliamentary Secretary should meet those people again but he has refused. I seriously hope that he will change his mind and listen to their objections.
I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary has looked at the siting of the ring road, but I beg both him and the Secretary of State to have a look, just as the last Minister of Transport did.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
I rise to intervene briefly and emphasise that my remarks are in no way meant to wind up this debate. The County of Merseyside Bill is a private measure, sponsored in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) I do not know how many sponsors this Bill has had during its long passage or how many Ministers have intervened at various stages, but it is not appropriate that I should wind up the Bill as a whole. I merely give the Government view on the Liverpool inner ring road.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) has chosen the Third Reading debate to canvass his well-known views on this ring road and with some ingenuity he has commanded the Floor of the House of Commons for the best part of an hour about a totally Merseyside local government row. He raised this in an Adjournment debate on 10 July last year when he used much the same quotations and arguments. I will not rehearse them all again.
I find myself agreeing with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). We have been debating a matter which should be debated by the elected representatives of the local authorities in Merseyside. It is preposterous to argue that every Member of Parliament who has a dispute with his county council or his district council—regardless of the political party that controls the local authorities—should breeze along to the House of Commons, and seek either to refute a Bill of this sort and reject it entirely, or to try to involve the Government in taking decisions in London which are best taken in Merseyside. The people whose opinions the hon. Member rejects are elected representatives from Merseyside. They are the highway authorities. The hon. Member uses emotive language in which to attack them. They have to answer to their electorate and to legality which is best exercised there.
§ Mr. Alton
I am grateful to the Minister. I do not want the Minister to go into long and detailed arguments about the ring road. We have debated that matter on previous occasions. It is obvious that he has not changed his mind. I should like him to concentrate his mind on the schedule before us. Parliament is being asked to decide whether we wish the Bill to be placed on the statute book. That is a matter for hon. Members, not for the county council. People's homes and properties can be taken away from them under the powers contained in the Bill, without the right of a public inquiry. Is that a matter of which the Minister and his Government approve?
§ Mr. Clarke
That is certainly the case. The Bill bears on the 1966 Act, which gives the powers on which the council tend to rely. They have a 14-year-old power. I am an outsider on the matter of the ring road, as is the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). I shall give him a similar reply if he talks about local roads in Rochdale, claiming that he wants a ministerial reply.
I do not regard myself as being in a position to decide on Merseyside local roads. I have been obliged to take an interest in the road, and I find that for 14 years people on Merseyside have talked themselves to a total standstill about a road on which no one seems able to take a decision. Parliamentary powers were given in 1966. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill was elected in May 1979, and he now wants to open 13 years of debate, and thus cause further delay.
As an outsider—I hesitate in the fraught atmosphere of a Merseyside debate to give advice to Merseyside MPs—one of the things that I discovered when looking at the inner ring road is that the inner area of Liverpool is blighted to a considerable extent with empty derelict land, much of which is deteriorating because of continued indecision. Because the hon. Gentleman is late in the field so far as the House is concerned—although he is not late in his opposition to the road—he wishes to extend the uncertainty either by asking Ministers to intervene or by blocking a Private Member's Bill, or by any other means by which he can overrule the decisions of the democratically elected Merseyside county council.
369 I intervene because the hon. Gentleman is entitled to a reply as a Member of the House. I underline the fact that this is a local authority responsibility. The hon. Gentleman has obliged me to take a much closer look at the road. My attention was drawn to the matter by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry). His constituency is affected, so I have some sympathy with him, but the hon. Member for Edge Hill insists on representing the constituencies of other Liverpool Members which are outside his boundaries.
The hon. Member for Scotland Exchange has the most direct interest. He wishes me to look at the ring road. I have taken an interest. I cannot conceivably meet deputations on behalf of the Government, and take steps on a matter which is not the proper responsibility of the Government. I have made the same decisions as the Ministers responsible in the previous Labour Government. The scheme is highly commendable, and it is accepted expenditure for the purpose of transport supplementary grant. So long as the Merseyside county council continues to persevere with it, the time has come for a decision.
§ Mr. Alton
I am grateful to the Minister for being so courteous. It would be highly irresponsible for me, a Merseyside Member, to ignore the fact that my constituents will have to pay vast amounts for the road to be built. Some of my constituents' properties will be affected by the construction of the road. I speak legitimately on their behalf. It would be irresponsible of me not to be a guardian of the public purse. The scheme is to cost £40 million at a time when the Government are talking about public expenditure cuts.
We are talking about the use of powers that are 14 years old.
§ Mr. Alton
We are talking about a different scheme from the one conceived by the Liverpool city council in 1966, the year that the Liverpool Corporation Bill was introduced. We are about to witness a misuse of powers. We are talking about a different road, a different scheme and different properties. Nevertheless, the House is asked to allow the 370 Bill to pass on to the statute book so that people's businesses and homes may be taken away from them.
§ Mr. Clarke
We are studying the transportation programmes and plans of local authorities and deciding what is acceptable expenditure We are giving the appropriate grant for that expenditure. That is being done against a background of financial restraint. We are not against all expensive road schemes. To claim that financial constraints mean that all road schemes should be stopped would lead to absurdity and great hardship in some areas.
It is for Merseyside to make its bid. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Liverpool city council. Apparently he is able to command considerable attention in the local press and on radio and television in the Liverpool area. He should pursue his argument in the Liverpool area and not any longer in the House of Commons.
The Bill has had a long course in this place. I believe that the time has come for the House to make a decision on Third Reading. It is an odd suggestion that two years' work in the House should be rejected because the hon. Gentleman has decided yet again to advance his argument on the inner ring road. I understand that at some stage a petition was presented by the Liberal councillors on the Liverpool city council. All 41 of them petitioned against the inner ring road. They were entitled to do so. They petitioned against the Bill and the relevant powers. On 10 July 1978 the time came for the petition to be pursued and to be examined by the Committee. Unfortunately, not one of the 41 councillors appeared to pursue the petition. They were noticeable by their absence. They took no part in the proceedings at that stage.
It is unfortunate that on Third Reading—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Did you hear the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) say that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary told a lie? Is that parliamentary language?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If I had heard anything of that sort, I should have asked the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) to reconsider the matter.
§ Mr. Alton
I ask the Minister to reconsider his statement. I composed the letter and sent it myself. I received an acknowledgement. I know that many written representations were made. I personally delivered to another place the 41 signatures. Representations were made by my colleagues and myself and none of us was invited to attend the other place.
§ Mr. Clarke
I am sorry if a procedural error was made. That may be the explanation. The 41 signatures were presented on the petition. However, the petition was not pursued. Not one of the signatories appeared to pursue it. If a procedural error was made, that was a
§ misfortune. However, that was the stage at which the matter should have been pursued. It is absurd to try to reject the entire Bill on Third Reading because of a dispute concerning the inner ring road.
§ I have discovered that there are strong feelings about the inner ring road in Liverpool. However, there are rather more substantial portions of the Bill on which Merseyside Members are anxious to reach a conclusion. The Government's views remain the same on the inner ring road. We consider it to be a local authority matter. We have accepted the expenditure for grant purposes. The scheme appears to us to have considerable merits. It is an issue that is not appropriate for the House or for the Government finally to determine. It is not a reason for rejecting the entire Bill.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 179, Noes 6.
|Division No. 191]||AYES||[9.30 pm|
|Ancram, Michael||Duffy, A. E. P.||Kimball, Marcus|
|Arnold, Tom||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Dunnett, Jack||Knox, David|
|Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lambie, David|
|Banks, Robert||Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Bell, Sir Ronald||Evans, John (Newton)||Lee, John|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Eyre, Reginald||Leighton, Ronald|
|Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)||Fairgrieve, Russell||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Faith, Mrs Sheila||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Best, Keith||Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Field, Frank||McCartney, Hugh|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Flannery, Martin||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Blackburn, John||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Fookes, Miss Janet||MacKay, John (Argyil)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fox, Marcus||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)||Major, John|
|Bowden, Andrew||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Marland, Paul|
|Bright, Graham||Garel-Jones, Tristan||Marlow, Tony|
|Brinton, Tim||George, Bruce||Marshall, Jim (Leicester South)|
|Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)||Golding, John||Mather, Caro.|
|Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick||Goodhart, Philip||Maxton, John|
|Budgen, Nick||Gorst, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Butcher, John||Gow, Ian||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Gower, Sir Raymond||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Grant, Anthony(Harrow C)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Pedditch)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mills, Peter (West Devon)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Grieve, Percy||Moate, Roger|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Grylls, Michael||Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)|
|Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Morton, George|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hampson, Dr Keith||Myles, David|
|Colvin, Michael||Hawkins, Paul||Nelson, Anthony|
|Cook, Robin F.||Hawksley, Warren||Neubert, Michael|
|Cope, John||Haynes, Frank||Newton, Tony|
|Corrie, John||Heddle, John||Normanton, Tom|
|Costain, A. P.||Henderson, Barry||Nolt, Rt Hon John|
|Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)||Hicks, Robert||Ogden, Eric|
|Cryer, Bob||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Dalyell, Tam||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Dempsey, James||Jessel, Toby||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Dewar, Donald||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Porter, George|
|Dixon, Donald||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Race, Reg|
|Rathbone, Tim||Spence, John||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)||Walker, Rt Hon Peter (Worcester)|
|Richardson, Jo||Spriggs, Leslie||Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Sproat, lain||Ward, John|
|Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Stevens, Martin||Watson, John|
|Roberts, Allan (Bootle)||Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)||Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Stradllng Thomas, J.||Wheeler, John|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Strang, Gavin||Wickenden, Keith|
|Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)||Tebbit, Norman||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Temple-Morris, peter||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Sims, Roger||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Thompson, Donald||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Spearing, Nigel||Waddington, David||Mr. Malcolm Thornton and|
|Speller, Tony||Wakeham, John||Mr. Anthony Steen.|
|Beith, A. J.||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Howells, Geraint||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Parry, Robert||Mr. Cyril Smith and|
|Penhaligon, David||Mr. David Alton.|
|Question accordingly agreed to.|
|Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.|