§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper:
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government why the Tay Road Bridge Committee have been refused permission to reduce bus fares.]
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND (LORD HUGHES)
My Lords, permission has not been refused. The Bridge Joint Board submitted a proposal to reduce the toll for scheduled service buses from 10s. to 2s. 6d., on the basis that this would enable the bus operators to remove the surcharge of 7d. which they include in the passenger fares.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has informed the Board that he would be willing to accept arrangements based on a 5s. level of toll for these buses, which would enable the surcharge to be reduced, probably to 2d. I understand that the Board intends to submit a formal proposal of this kind, and I hope that the surcharge will be reduced at an early date.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for explaining the complexities of this matter, which he has done very satisfactorily. May I ask him whether it is the case that there has been no Government grant towards the £6 million cost of building this bridge, and whether it is the case that local authorities, which have borne the whole of the charge, have so far succeeded in making the bridge pay for itself? If this is so, should it not be made more expeditiously easy for them 1222 to determine the level of toll charges on all classes of vehicles?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I remember that when the present Member of Parliament for Dundee, West was contesting the by-election, he was asked what assistance the then Government had given to the building of the bridge. The reply which he gave, which was perfectly truthful, was, "So far as I am aware, the only thing the Government have given is permission." Since then they have gone a little further. As the noble Earl is aware, in this case exceptionally, on the first loan, unpaid interest on the loan is not capitalised. The result of this would be that if in fact the charge were reduced to 2s. 6d., the resulting annual deficiency—something of the order of £20,000—would fall on the Exchequer rather than on the local authorities.
So far as the figures are concerned, we think that 5s. is a fair one. The usage of the bridge is in excess of the estimates, and it is from that point of view that the Secretary of State feels it is reasonable to reduce this particular toll charge. But if the Government had been prepared to go to 2s. 6d. and to accept responsibility for the £20,000—a difficult thing at this time—it would have meant that those people who were travelling across the bridge in buses were the only people in vehicles who were using the bridge free of tolls. We think that a charge of 2d. per journey per passenger is fair in relation to the charges that other people are paying for the use of the bridge.
§ LORD KILMANY
My Lords, while we welcome the fact that 5s. is a less severe charge than 10s., surely the noble Lord will bear in mind that the Forth Road Bridge would allow such vehicles through for 2s. 6d. Why should the toll for the Tay Road Bridge, which as the noble Lord has told us is doing better than was expected, be higher than the Forth Road Bridge toll?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I suggest, before the noble Lord, Lord Kilmany, commends so strongly the 2s. 6d. toll charged on the Forth Bridge, that he looks at the accounts of the Forth Road Bridge.