HC Deb 20 April 1983 vol 41 cc271-2
4. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will take steps to abolish tolls on bridges under his control.

Mr. David Howell

No, Sir.

Mr. Brotherton

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous debt outstanding on that great white elephant, the Humber bridge? Does he not think that it is time to wipe out and write off that debt? If he will not abolish tolls, will he use them as levies to pay for the maintenamce of the bridge?

Mr. Howell

I understand that the reason for building the bridge was to secure a favourable outcome in a by-election in the 1960s. The bridge has now been built and it must be used to the best possible advantage. The Humber Bridge Board is responsible for the debt and for its finances. I have agreed to meet the board when it has prepared some financial projections. It has 60 years in which to repay the loan, so it is early days yet.

Mr. James Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when the Labour Government were in power Conservative Members were clamouring for the abolition of tolls? Is he aware that in Scotland many road hauliers have gone out of business? If he will not discontinue tolls, will he give serious consideration to alleviating the problens that now arise?

Mr. Howell

I am aware of the problems caused by tolls. The difficulty is that someone has to pay for the enormous capital charges incurred in building bridges and tunnels on the trunk and motorway system. Free crossing would not make the debts go away. Someone has to pay for them. I believe that it is right to adhere to the principle of the user contributing to the huge capital costs. I recognise the worries expressed by the Freight Transport Association and other bodies.

Mr. Henderson

Does my right Friend accept that some of us are disappoointed, if not surprised, at his answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton)? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the original justification for major estuarial crossings being tolled is no longer valid, as so many of them are not tolled?

Mr. Howell

I am interested in the small number of large capital investments in major crossings where there is a substantial capital debt that someone has to repay. I realise that the charge upon the user is an irritation. I have heard the views of the FTA and other bodies. If those crossings were made free, the debt would not go away. Someone else would have to bear it.

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Brotherton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Hughes

Sit down. I apologise, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should explain to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) that if he pursues his point of order now I shall not be able to call anyone else on this question.

Mr. Hughes

Is it not the case for almost every toll bridge that the amount collected does not pay the interest? Theoretically, if not practically, the debt is increasing each year. How, therefore, does keeping tolls make any possible sense?

Mr. Howell

It does not happen in every case. In an example that will arise in a later question—the Dartford tunnel—with the completion of the M25 orbital road and the increase in traffic, there will be increased contributions towards the repayment of the debt.

Mr. Brotherton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the somewhat unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that at the first opportunity I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment of the House.

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