§ Mr. Paul Murphy (Torfaen)
I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 18 at end insert`after consultations with relevant local authorities in England and Wales'.The amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult relevant local authorities before raising tolls on the new bridges. It highlights the role of English and Welsh local authorities with regard to the new bridge and the tolling regime. At this stage, we do not know precisely what those local authorities will be. The Secretary of State for Wales has said that there will be a new local authority unitary structure in Wales and we assume, therefore, also on the other side of the Bristol channel.
But whatever structure there might be, it is the view of local authorities in Wales and England that the need for a second Severn crossing is unquestionable. We have put up for too long with enormous congestion on the existing Severn bridge. We know that the economic impact of a second Severn crossing on the Welsh economy will be considerable.
In Gwent alone, where the second Severn crossing will end up, 9.3 per cent. of the people are out of work. The European link is vital to Wales and the second Severn crossing will constitute what is known in Europe as the E30. The second bridge will also have considerable significance with regard to the general transport infrastructure throughout south Wales.
Studies by the standing conference of local authorities in south Wales show that during the past two years, because of the problems of congestion on the present bridge, some 2,000 jobs have been lost in the county of Gwent alone.
However, the amendment is basically about tolls and their level. The impact of tolls and their level on the local economy is considerable. When we consider that the whole of the tolling regime on the present bridge is equivalent in financial terms to what Gwent receives from the regional selective assistance grant, the regional enterprise grant and the European regional development fund we realise what a significant impact tolls can have on the economy of Gwent and south Wales.
It is interesting that Tyne and Wear county council—before it was abolished—recently studied the tolling regime on the Tyne tunnel corridor and it came to the conclusion that, in comparison with other areas within its remit, the Tyne tunnel corridor was detrimental to other areas which had no tolls.
One aspect of the amendment which was touched on in Committee on several occasions was the level of debt on the existing bridge which, if written off, could reduce tolls on the new bridges by 1995 by about 20 per cent. There were many arguments in Committee about whether the 271 Government would be prepared to write off the debt on the bridge and, in so doing, reduce the tolls on the two bridges when the new regime came into operation.
Only yesterday, during transport questions, an hon. Member asked the Minister for Roads and Traffic what the tolling regime would be on the Humber bridge, which has been compared with the Severn bridge on more than one occasion. The Minister replied that the Government were considering the whole question of the debt on the Humber bridge with a view to writing off at least a portion of it and, in so doing, reducing the general level of tolls on the Humber bridge. I sincerely hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government's decision to write off some of the debt on the Humber bridge is relevant to the Severn bridge.
In our view, the local inquiries that have been held, by law, three times since the opening of the existing bridge —in 1979, 1984 and 1989—were a good idea. Local circumstances were taken into account; the local economy was monitored; and the CBI, the AA, the RAC, the Road Haulage Association and many other bodies gave evidence to the inspector about the impact of increased toll levels on the existing bridge and the south Wales economy.
In Committee, the Government decided not to support the continuation of local inquiries under the new Severn bridge regime. We believe that, now that the Government have turned down that idea, the widest possible consultation should take place between the relevant local authorities—on both the English and the Welsh sides—when the Secretary of State is considering whether to increase toll levels on both bridges. That would be a good gesture and it would also provide the Government with a valuable source of information.
I hope that, as well as telling us whether he considers consultation important, the Minister will say something about the information about the Humber bridge that we were given yesterday.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
First, let me declare an interest: my brother-in-law, Mr. Micky Pople, is a partner in the English Stones fisheries, which has the salmon netting rights under one of the pillars of the bridge.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) spoke of the need to consult the relevant local authorities. The Opposition have tabled an amendment about policing services, and another about compensation for concessionaires. I wish to put it on record that my brother-in-law and his friends have had to spend many months, and much of their own money, fighting for compensation. Now, finally, they have been granted compensation, but without legal costs. I feel that that is wrong, and I have used this opportunity to state their case.
§ Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd)
Whatever is decided this evening, it should be said that many of us in Wales welcome the bridge. At last people are getting on with building the thing.
We all agree that many of the haulage firms are doing splendid work in taking the products of Wales across to markets in England and on the continent. Nevertheless, many of us fear that, for a long time to come, the unit costs of those products will continue to be inflated by the expense caused by traffic jams, and by the present system of road transport and the way in which vehicles currently have to use the bridge. Surely the Government should be 272 as concerned about other forms of transport infrastructure, in conjunction with the bridge, as they are about the building of the bridge itself.
This bridge will stand as a great tribute to engineering in the 20th century; but will Wales be able to provide other such tributes? Will we, for example, have a road-rail infrastructure that begins to reflect the true cost—and it is an enormous cost—of road transport as it takes our products towards England and into the continent?
The hidden costs of road transport are enormous. Not only are we now contemplating building a great piece of engineering, and a great monument to our love of road transport; we are, or should be, seriously considering how Wales can best be served by a road-rail link with the channel tunnel, the English markets and the economic market in general. Alongside the marvellous structure across the Severn I should like to see another structure, perhaps a series of loading bays or depots where there might be an interaction between road and rail transport. We might see the sort of experiments that are currently taking place in Germany, where we would contemplate not only a bridge but the means of taking away from the roads much of the heavy traffic and putting it on to rail. In that way the second crossing would not become as congested and damaged in 15 or 20 years as the present bridge has become. No matter how brilliant our planners or engineers may be, we are all fallible. We tend to get projections wrong. In a sense, we should be planning for safety to ensure that there is back-up for the second crossing. I hope to see Wales flourish. I hope that the transformation of our economy will continue so that in the future a great diversity of products will come from Wales.
We are on the periphery of Europe. Our unit costs are important if we are to take advantage of the great new opportunities of the single market and, more importantly, if we are to tap the potential of the expanding markets in southern and eastern Europe. Wales is vulnerable in that respect. If our transport infrastructure is not right now, we will pay for it in decades to come. We must plan that far ahead. Will the Minister consider carefully the idea that the great vision of a second crossing should be accompanied by another vision—a dream form of rail transport that works alongside the roads for the betterment of Wales and a better future for us all?
§ Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)
I was the Chairman of the Select Committee which considered this bridge. Having lived in Wales and used the Severn bridge for many years some 15 or 20 years ago, I was amazed that the cost of the original building work and the enormous cost of repairs —£70 million or £80 million in recent years—can all be repaid by the joint venture firm, Laing-Entrepose, which is the concessionaire, from the tolls that will be levied on the opening of the new bridge, the tolls on the existing bridge and the handover back to the Department. Therefore, I am delighted that there is no need to write off any debt, which the Select Committee on Transport proposed six or seven years ago when I was a member of it. Write-off is needed on the Humber bridge, which does not have the same usage and cannot recover its debt.
I am delighted that vehicles of all sorts using the Severn bridge are able to pay tolls that are adequate to pay for the original building, the repair work and the construction of the new bridge. Therefore, I see no reason for public inquiries or detailed lengthy consultations with local 273 authorities. The users in both England and Wales and the Welsh people will benefit enormously from the new facility.
I reject the amendment. The toll regime in the Bill is more than adequate and we will see a first-class facility in use as early as possible without any delays caused by public inquiries.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
I support the amendment. It is essential that local authorities are consulted, but the process need not take long. The second Severn crossing is essential and it should be completed in the shortest possible time. However, we need some consultation with local authorities. I agree with the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who spoke of the need to improve the rail infrastructure at the same time. If, in recent years, we have managed to bring about a rail-road crossing on the Britannia bridge across the Menai straits, surely we should have the wit and imagination to provide road and rail crossings at the point of the new bridge. The project should be more ambitious than is envisaged.
We believe that local authorities should be consulted. The present tolls are a tax on Welsh business, and that fact should be taken into account. I do not entirely agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) about tolls. For those who cross the bridge frequently, they are excessive. The bridge is a lifeline for Welsh industry and tourism, so we must be careful about what we do.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
Until I heard the comments of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), I had not intended to take part in the debate. I, too, was a member of the Select Committee on Transport which considered toll crossings. I am amazed that any Opposition Member wants to talk about the Humber bridge, let alone in conjunction with the Severn crossing, given that that is a feasible project which will pay its way, as opposed to one which was designed purely to win a certain by-election some 25 years ago.
The Severn crossing is intended to bring Wales closer to England. As for the Humber bridge, both parts of Humberside were taken over and want to go back into Lincolnshire as fast as they can, because they do not like the way in which they have been joined.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not follow the path suggested by the hon. Member for Torfaen. No other scheme should be compared to the Humber bridge. Frankly, I do not think that it should have been built in the first place. The proposed bridge is needed for the good of the Welsh economy.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) stressed the importance of a rail connection. We want to encourage the movement of more goods by rail. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport declared that to be his policy. Let us be honest about this—whatever we do in the next few years, most freight will continue to go by road. If the Welsh economy is to expand, it will increasingly need goods to be transported on lorries across the Severn. Any attempt to delay the building of the bridge, and anything that 274 introduces more public discussion and means that it will take longer for the bridge to be built, is detrimental to the Welsh economy. I am slightly surprised that the Opposition put forward such views.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover), who chaired the Select Committee so expeditiously. The House should be grateful to him and to his colleagues on the Committee. I agree with my hon. Friend that the existing Severn bridge is already a great success and that the new bridge will bring great benefits to the Welsh economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) referred to rail freight. I remind the House that there will be a rail freight terminal in Cardiff to ship freight through the channel tunnel—that is a commitment for 1993—and the rail freight that will be shipped from south Wales will be able to come through the existing tunnel underneath the Severn.
§ Mr. Livsey
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that speedy links with the channel tunnel depend on electrification of the south Wales line? Is it correct that the present Severn tunnel will not accommodate an electrification scheme? Will the hon. Gentleman clarify that? It could have an adverse impact on the future of business in south Wales.
§ Mr. Freeman
Rail freight shipment does not need electrified lines and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, a considerable amount of freight will be collected and hauled through the tunnel by diesel and then electric locos from the terminals in London. Although speed is important for freight, it is not as important as it is for passenger traffic. I understand that the Great Western railway can be electrified as and when it is appropriate to electrify it, all the way from London to Swansea and Cardiff.
§ Mr. Adley
The Minister referred to the channel tunnel and to traffic from south Wales. I hope that I am not abusing the House by referring to the line that the Minister has just mentioned. Will he please reconsider the utilisation of the line which was built in the previous 275 century specifically to take traffic to the channel tunnel and which was not closed down by Dr. Beeching who said that one day the tunnel would be built?
§ Mr. Freeman
I feared that I should be shunted up that line. I have already had a tutorial from my hon. Friend, and I am sure that I shall have many more, on the value of a west-about-route around London to carry freight.
The hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) raised a number of issues—
§ Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)
Will the Minister say a little more about what he mentioned before the intervention of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley)? He said that there would be a road-rail interchange for freight traffic crossing the Severn bridge and that it would be located in Cardiff. Is that what he said? If so, where in Cardiff will that interchange be located and when will the official public announcement of investment by British Rail or by others take place?
§ Mr. Freeman
A few days ago the Minister for Roads and Traffic made a statement about the terminal in Cardiff. I am happy to repeat that for all combined transport—that is, freight that is collected by road for onward trans-shipment by rail—British Rail will have a terminal in Cardiff for 1993. I am not familiar with the sidings in Cardiff, but I imagine that British Rail will use and enhance the existing facilities in Cardiff. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman specifying exactly where in Cardiff it will be.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
If Speedlink is to close in Wales next week as is Speedlink in England, how much more freight will come across the new and old bridge—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The amendment deals with consultations in respect of the levying of tolls. What has that to do with—
§ Mr. Snape
If you stop interrupting for a moment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall tell you. It is no good interrupting the rest of us if you allow the Minister to proceed. I am asking the Minister whether, as Speedlink in Wales is closing and as most of the traffic presently carried by rail will cross the new and old Severn bridge, how much will that cost the taxpayer in both countries?
§ Mr. Freeman
The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the consequence of the closure of Speedlink. Well over half of the volume of freight will continue to be carried by train, but some will be lost. British Rail has not disguised that fact. About 6 million tonnes in total will be hauled in the first year from the nine terminals. I cannot give him the estimate for Cardiff, but I shall write to him.
When the hon. Member for Torfaen proposed the amendment, which I urge the House to resist, he argued —and I agree—that the need for the bridge was unquestionable because it would double the capacity for road traffic between England and Wales.
The principle of tolling was accepted by a Labour Government about 25 years ago when the first Severn bridge was constructed. The hon. Member for Torfaen rightly argued or postulated that if the debt were written off after consultation with the local authorities—we are 276 talking about £120 million—tolls could be reduced during the period between commencement of construction of the second bridge and the opening of it, and thereafter. There would, however, be a loss to the Exchequer of about £120 million—£62 million initially and then the balance with interest at 6 per cent. in real terms at the end of the tolling period. That is a matter of judgment, and the Government have decided that the receipt of £120 million to the Exchequer, albeit involving higher tolls than would otherwise be levied, is justified. The decision will allow the money to be recycled in the form of public expenditure. I cannot give a commitment on where the money will be spent or on what mode of transport, but it will be used for the benefit of the taxpayer.
I have been asked specific questions about the Humber bridge. Even in 1995, assuming that the tolls for cars, for example, are indexed to the rate of inflation on the Humber bridge, the one-way tolls will still be greater than those on the Severn bridge. The tolls for cars will be £2.10 on the Humber bridge, one way, and £1.90 on the Severn bridge. The same is true for two-axle heavy goods vehicles. In 1995, the tolls will be £8.60 on the Humber bridge and £5.70 on the Severn bridge. The Humber bridge is an exception, as it were. Even in 1995, the tolls will be higher on that bridge under the assumptions that I have outlined.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic did not suggest that there was a proposal to write off all the debt on the Humber bridge. In due course details will emerge of the debt that must remain that will be serviced by tolls. At that stage it will be possible to draw an exact comparison between the Severn bridge, with £120 million not written off, and the Humber bridge.
The hon. Members for Torfaen and for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) argued that there should be local public inquiries. There are three categories of toll increase. The first is the stepped increase on the existing bridge between next year, when I hope that construction will start, and 1995. The schedule is provided for in the Bill, and I believe that no public inquiries are necessary. Parliament will make a decision. Secondly, the increasing of the tolls, once the second bridge is completed, will be limited to the retail prices index each year. That is provided for in the Bill, and there is no need for a local public inquiry. Thirdly, there are the four exceptional events that we discussed in Committee: exceptional cases if there were a change in legislation; a major change in the tax regimé; the European investment bank withdrawing its loan; or dispute over the title to the land over which the bridge was built. If a toll increase were needed in such an event, the Government would ask the House to pass an affirmative order.
With those reasoned arguments, as I consider them to be, I ask the House to reject the amendment.
§ Mr. Murphy
An answer given yesterday during transport questions suggested that the Government's position on debts on estuarial crossings had altered considerably. Until yesterday, the Government had consistently resisted the recommendation of the Select Committee on Transport that the debts should be written off. It seems that yesterday there was a significant change in their position. Even if we are talking of only part of the debt in respect of the Humber bridge, and even though that crossing is an exceptional case, it seems that the Government's principle has been broken. We say that there is a case for reconsidering the debt on the Severn 277 bridge so that tolls can be reduced. That would mean that, when the two Severn bridges are in operation, tolls will not have an adverse impact on the economy of south Wales.
The consultations to which the hon. Members for Chorley (Mr. Dover) and for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) referred will not delay the construction of the second bridge. As the Minister knows, they would relate to the four exceptional events to which he referred in his reply, and well after the bridge has been built.
If there are exceptional reasons why the Secretary of State should increase the tolls, as the law stands, public inquiries can be held, as they have been on three separate 278 occasions. Although the Severn Bridge Tolls Act 1965 said that the principle of tolling should be accepted, it laid down the principle of local public inquiries. The Government say that a debate on an order in the House is sufficient to reflect local points. We believe that it is insufficient for the House simply to debate a small order late at night, perhaps for only an hour, because that is not the same as proper consultation involving local authorities and the other bodies that have been mentioned.
I do not see why the Government cannot accept the amendment, which would enable the local community to be involved, would place the spotlight on the local economy and would do nothing but good for the new bridges.
§ Amendment negatived.279 10.45 pm
§ Mr. Murphy
I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 34, after 'services', insert `, including policing services,'.
This is a probing amendment which follows debates in Committee on the relationship between the concessionaires, the Secretary of State and the police authorities.
As the House is aware, Avon and Somerset constabulary is responsible for the policing arrangements of the existing bridge. It is proposed that the Gwent police force will look after the new Severn crossing. We are concerned, and I know that Gwent county council is concerned, about the extra cost of policing the new Severn crossing. The chief constable says that it would require at least nine constables and three sergeants, eight traffic patrol constables, six civilian force control room operators, one motorway patrol car, one unit beat car, one unit base station at Chepstow, one motorway console and force control room and the upgrading of two police stations. In total, a manpower cost of an extra £400,000 a year and other resource requirements amounting to £350,00 a year would fall on the relatively small police force in Gwent.
It is feared, given the present position of local government finance and as poll tax capping will apply to all Welsh local authorities from next year, that if Gwent county council were to input that extra cost there could be implications for poll tax payers in Gwent.
To that end, in July 1990, Gwent county council wrote to the Home Office asking whether any special arrangements will be made to fund the extra responsibilities that will fall on the Gwent police force. In reply, a Home Office official said:As the responsibility for policing the bridge was requested by the Chief Constable, it seems reasonable that the cost should fall to Gwent Police Authority.That is highly unreasonable. The extra costs that will fall on Gwent police, especially the manpower costs, should be met by the Home Office. People in Gwent are concerned that all the extra money that will be spent on policing the new bridge will have detrimental implications for policing the county's towns and villages.
I hope that when the Minister of State, Welsh Office replies he will reinforce the point that was made in Committee by the Minister for Roads and Traffic that special arrangements will be made and that the poll tax payers of Gwent will not have to pay more to police the second Severn crossing.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
I repeat the assurance that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic gave in Committee that the additional responsibilities for policing will be taken into account for public expenditure purposes. However, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no reason to change the normal rules for meeting policing costs for the scheme, and I cannot agree to do so.
The hon. Gentleman is one step ahead of me in that he appears to have fairly precise figures for the cost of policing the new bridge. I am not as advantaged as he is. I am told that the cost of policing the new bridge—and, indeed, the existing bridge—cannot be separated from costs incurred in normal policing not just of the bridges but of the approach roads. Be that as it may, the policing of the highways will be carried out in the normal way under the normal arrangements and there is certainly no 280 need for any special provision in the Bill, just as no such provision is made in the Severn Bridge Tolls Act 1965 or the Dartford-Thurrock Crossing Act 1988.
The costs of policing the new bridge and its approach roads will be met in exactly the same way as those for the existing bridge and for every other stretch of motorway and trunk road. If the authorities concerned feel that they will be put to additional policing costs as a result of the Bill, they will no doubt voice those concerns to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Wales.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
In a welcome moment of frankness, the Minister confessed that my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) was one step ahead of the Government in his knowledge of the bridge.
Wales has always regarded the Severn bridge as a mixed blessing and has been rightly cynical about its financing. It was the poet Harri Webb who said of the opening of the Severn bridge, with Wales and England linked for the first time,
Although every sensible person welcomed the bridge, it has proved a mixed blessing in every possible way. As my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) pointed out, there are great advantages in improving the communications system but, sadly, in this case, the effects of the improved communications have been felt in the heart of the country, not at the edges of the communications system. The advantages have flown towards centres of commerce in the west and south-east of England. With the coming of the bridge, many firms that had previously served only Wales found that they could base their headquarters in England and so both serve the west of England and continue to serve Wales, albeit from the other side.
- "Two lands at last connected
- Across the Severn wide
- But all the tolls collected
- Upon the English side."
There have been gains and losses. The true story of the Severn bridge is not that it was inadequate in the short term but that it was shaken into early senility by lorries. The number of lorries using it increased far more rapidly than expected. The original cost of the bridge was not £62 million, as suggested, but about £14 million. [HON. MEMBERS: "£11."] It was £11 million for the Severn bridge and £14 million for the two bridges—the Wye and the Severn—and work in the surrounding areas. The costs increased because of the state of the bridge and because no controls were placed on the lorries crossing the bridge, many of them overloaded, which caused the problems with which we are still dealing today. Even today, only three of the lanes are open.
The Gwent police have long had a sense of grievance against the Government. For many years, supported by the police committee, the local people and the chief constable, they have demanded an increase in their numbers. All six hon. Members representing Gwent constituencies have presented their case, asking for the full complement of police in Gwent. Each year, the complement has been denied by the Government.
There can be no question but that the Bill will place an increased burden on the Gwent police. We are told that the Government will be "taking the matter into account." We are all familiar with that phrase. We have heard it many times from Governments making settlements to local 281 authorities, and it often means that the decision is invisible in the final total amount allocated to an authority—in this case Gwent—and that there is no increase in that total.
Like all my hon. Friends, I strongly support the amendment. The new bridge and the increased policing that will be required will be an increased burden on the poll tax payers of Gwent and will mean that Gwent police will have less time to deal with their other important functions of keeping up their splendid record and splendid crime clear-up rate.
§ Mr. Murphy
With one exception, I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has said. The exception is in relation to Mr. Harri Webb, whose poetry is better than his politics. Some years ago, he tried to become the Member for Parliament for my constituency and, happily, failed.
The Minister has not reassured us because we are talking about an extra £750,000—£0.75 million—over and above the present cost of policing the county of Gwent. The second Severn bridge is a novel venture which will involve a lot of extra cost. As my hon. Friend has said, we do not want that extra money to come out of the Gwent police authority's budget for ordinary policing costs. I hope that the reassurances that we will be given in the weeks and months to come will be much firmer than those given by the Minister of State this evening.
§ Sir Wyn Roberts
I do not think that I can take matters much further except to agree with the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) about Harri Webb's poetic errors. This time round, the toll plaza will be on the Welsh side.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about Gwent police and its duties in respect of the new bridge, but I remind him that it is expected that the Avon police force will continue to maintain the motorway leading up to the existing bridge and, on the Department's behalf, will maintain the new approach roads on the Avon side.
§ Mr. Murphy
The Avon and Somerset constabulary will be policing a smaller bridge with an authority that is double the size of that in Gwent.
§ Amendment negatived.