§ The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins)
The debt on the Humber bridge is about £342 million. We are working with the bridge board on financial projections that it will use to support its detailed case for Government assistance.
§ Mr. Cran
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the saga of the Humber bridge debt has gone on far too long and that that is illustrated by the fact that a debt next year of about £400 million is projected, with interest charges being clocked up to the tune of £1 a second? Everyone believes 7 that the matter should be resolved, including the Government. Will my hon. Friend tell us what impediments there are to an agreement?
§ Mr. Atkins
We are waiting for several things, and we hope to be able to make a decision in the not-too-distant future. However, my hon. Friend has been a champion of the need to resolve concern about the bridge, and he will be aware that we shall do what we can as quickly as we can, but he will have to wait a little longer yet.
§ Ms. Ruddock
Is not that an admission that tolls are not a success and that where they pay their way they cause great congestion, for example in Dartford, and where they do not pay their way, they force operators to raise tolls to such a level that they are a grave disincentive to local business, for example on Humberside and Merseyside? Is the Minister aware that the only alternative to raising tolls to such a level in Merseyside is an extra £10 per person on the poll tax? Surely it is time that the Government reviewed their policy on tolls and provided help for Humberside and Merseyside.
§ Mr. Atkins
As I think everyone is aware, the Humber bridge was build by Barbara Castle to ensure a by-election victory for a Labour candidate in Hull. Typically, therefore, it was not costed properly and it will never make money. Therefore, the taxpayer may have to foot some of the Bill. That is not the sort of argument to which I am prepared to be party.
§ Mr. Holt
Yes, via the Humber bridge. The last thing that we want is to subsidise the Humber bridge loss by having the link road run up the east coast of England when it should run parallel to the A1. I understand from the Secretary of State that it will take 14 years for the road to be opened after it has been agreed. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not allow the waste of money with regard to the Humber bridge to stop us in the north-east of England from having our proper motorway.
§ Mr. Atkins
My hon. Friend, as always, champions the cause of greater and better infrastructure for his constituency and for his constituents, in a manner to which we have become accustomed. He will know that the east coast motorway is being considered by a private consortium at the moment and we shall be interested to learn the results of that investigation. My hon. Friend would do well to press his case, as he normally does, and we shall do what we can to meet his concern.