§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Read a third time.
§ Clause 2 [Amendment of the 1980 Act: levying, revision and application of tolls]:
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
moved Amendment No. A1:Page 2, line 16, at end insert—("(2) No tolls may be demanded under that Part at any time in the year 2008.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to discuss a number of amendments which have been tabled in my name. However, first—particularly in the presence of the chairman, my noble friend Lord Geddes—I am sure that I speak for all Members of this House in saying how much we appreciate the very hard work carried out by the Select Committee on the Mersey Tunnels Bill. We are very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Brookman, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, and of course the chairman, my noble friend Lord Geddes.
§ Although I do not agree with the view of members of the committee that the Bill should proceed without amendment—hence, I am moving a number of amendments today—I think that, thanks to their careful and hard work and their probing, a number of facts have emerged which I believe will be material as we seek to consider whether the Bill should be amended.
§ In order to put my amendments in context, perhaps I may summarise. The first amendment deals with the question of whether any tolls should be charged in the year 2008. I shall return to the arguments in a moment, but I believe that noble Lords will be aware that in 2008 Liverpool will become the European Capital of Culture.
§ The subsequent amendments deal, first, with what the money produced from tunnel tolls can be spent on; secondly, whether or not there should be a reduction in the amount of the increase each year, or however often the increase occurs, to take account of efficiency savings; and, thirdly, once the debt incurred in the construction of both tunnels has been paid, whether that is the time to reduce the tolls to the level of operating costs, as envisaged in the County of Merseyside Act 1980, or whether this Bill should be allowed to proceed on the basis that that legislation is repealed. I hope that that is a valuable context for the spirit in which I seek to move amendments on Third Reading.90
The first amendment to Clause 2 would insert on page 2 at line 16 the provision that:
No tolls may be demanded under that Part at any time in the year 2008".
When I made the promoters aware of this amendment, I sought to reassure them that I did not wish to press it, other than to probe the extent of the support that will be allowed by Merseytravel to that key year in Liverpool's history—2008. I want to suggest a number of alternatives which they might like to consider.
§ First, in 2008 a number of key events will take place in and around the city of Liverpool and, indeed, on the Wirral side. I declare my interest as having been Member of Parliament in the other place for a Wirral constituency for 21 years. In the very special year of 2008, we shall see the culmination of much that the local Members of Parliament and the local people have been pressing for for many years—namely, at last, a focus of investment in Liverpool and recognition of the cultural buildings and the cultural events that take place there every year.
§ In later debates, we shall hear that some of the problems with congestion around the tunnel occur on the Wirral side early in the morning as people seek to go to work. I shall be relating that to another amendment a little later. The promoters may well consider—I very much hope that they can give an assurance in this respect—whether or not at off-peak times the tunnel tolls could be reduced or removed altogether in order to encourage the free access of Wirral and Liverpool people to the events that are taking place in 2008.
§ This amendment has been the focus of local press comment. Indeed, it has been suggested by Esther McVey, one of our local personalities in Merseyside, that there must be a way in which the local transport authority could recognise that something special should happen in 2008. I recognise that this was not an issue before the committee, but I should like to hear some assurance that there may well be a concessionary scheme or some encouragement, particularly to younger people and pensioners, to travel to events during 2008.
§ As I understand the position, the finances of the tunnels are in robust shape. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Geddes may recall, it was admitted before the Select Committee that at present there is no case for increasing the tolls and, under the existing procedure, there would need to be a case in order to increase them. Therefore, with the finances of the tunnels in robust shape, there is the opportunity to increase the number of concessions available during parts of the day other than at peak times.
§ I hope that noble Lords will understand that I wanted to table this probing amendment in order to hear a statement on behalf of the promoters that they will at least consider a way of enabling poorer people, in particular, in Liverpool to use the tunnels. I refer to people who may be able to afford a car but who will find the tunnel tolls during 2008 an additional burden which might prevent them attending some of the great events.91
§ The year 2008 will be a fabulous year in Merseyside and in Liverpool, in particular. Let us hear what the promoters will do to ensure that everyone can attend those very important events during the course of Liverpool's European Capital of Culture year in 2008. I beg to move.
§ Lord Smith of Leigh
My Lords, perhaps I may respond immediately on that point. I thank the noble Lord for the spirit in which he moved the amendment. Merseytravel—indeed, the whole of the north-west—was delighted when Liverpool was made European Capital of Culture 2008. Merseytravel will certainly play its part in ensuring that it is a success. It has already named one of its refurbished trains "Capital of Culture", and it is hoped that Merseytram will be operational by 2008, enabling it to meet the needs of the anticipated additional visitors. There will be park- and-ride schemes and other ways in which the transport planning of Merseyside will meet the needs of the 2008 Capital of Culture bid. I am sure that the style in which it does so will be appropriate to the Capital of Culture. I suggest that if anyone wants to sponsor a statue of Wayne Rooney in Liverpool, I am sure that Merseytravel will be interested in that.
§ The noble Lord made the point that the tunnel has a surplus at present but, if no charges were made during 2008, I think that it would cost Merseytravel some £30 million at current costs. It would have to be funded in some way. Either an additional £50 could be put on each council tax across Merseyside or the tunnel's debts could be added to, which is perhaps something that the noble Lord would not want to do.
§ As the noble Lord will recognise, if, as his amendment suggests, there were no tunnel charge in 2008, serious congestion would occur on both sides of the tunnel, raising pollution levels at both ends. I do not think that that is the kind of improved atmosphere that Liverpool is looking for in its City of Culture year.
§ The noble Lord said that there may be ways in which Merseytravel can see how it can help to market events on the different sides of the river. I am sure that it will do so. I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on that and withdraw his amendment.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, with considerable apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, we had a conversation earlier and I thought it might be appropriate if, as chairman of the Select Committee, I spoke at this stage. However, on reflection, the amendment was not a subject that the Select Committee in any way considered or heard evidence on. Perhaps, if noble Lords would allow, it would be more appropriate if I explained the considerations of the Select Committee after my noble friend Lord Hunt has moved his next amendment.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. A1, despite having 92 missed Second Reading, perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words about my hinterland, to use the current expression, within the context of the Bill.
§ I think I can claim to be the only Member in the Chamber this evening who was present when the first Mersey tunnel, the Queensway, was opened on 18 July 1934, almost 70 years ago. I was five and sitting on the shoulders of my father as King George V and Queen Mary carried out the ceremonies before driving off through the tunnel to Birkenhead.
§ Although private Bill procedures are tortuous, archaic and expensive, many Bills are relatively uncontroversial. To my regret, this Bill has dragged on for two and a half years, a stretch of time far greater than that of any public Bill. I have read both the Second and Third Readings in another place but have found it difficult to measure the weight of the speeches and whether Members were mainly entertaining each other or trying to make serious progress. I exempt, of course, any such shortcomings about the debate in this Chamber in February. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, spoke in his usual persuasive and fair-minded way. I have had a soft spot for the noble Lord because he went to school in Liverpool within a mile or so of my own school, Quarry Bank, although some years later. Alas, my sentiment does not extend to his arguments.
§ Almost 10 years ago, I played some part in trying to win for Liverpool the title of the European City of Architecture. When Liverpool decided to compete to become a European Capital of Culture, I joined in the campaign. Growing up in Liverpool I used to visit the Walker Art Gallery, attend concerts at the Philharmonic Hall, go to theatres, especially the Playhouse and use the great reference library in William Brown Street. Those were permanent cultural features of the city and Merseyside.
§ In the light of that distinguished heritage and the prospects for the wider events in 2008, it really is nonsense to pretend that Liverpool will suffer a penalty unless Mersey tunnels are suspended. Neither those who are already committed nor those who are only curious will be put off by such a modest tone. They are far too robust for that.
§ I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will withdraw his amendment and turn, if he wishes, to more substantial amendments.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, has several things in common with me on this question, not least that together we both campaigned for the city to become the City of Architecture. Indeed, he and I took part in a debate in your Lordships' House with the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who was also a key figure in campaigning for Liverpool to become the Capital of Culture in 2008. We have one other matter in common. For 18 years, as the noble Lord knows, I represented the Edgehill and Mossley Hill constituencies where his old Quarry Bank school was situated. I always regarded it as one of the most important parts of the 93 time I spent in another place to campaign alongside him in various remarkable by-elections during the 1980s.
§ However, tonight we are on different sides of this argument. I very much side with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, in what he has said.
§ Before serving 18 years in another place, I served on the local councils in Liverpool and on Merseyside. For a time I was deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, but I was also a member of the Merseyside County Council. Indeed, I was a member in 1974 when the second of the tunnels, the Wallasey Tunnel, was opened. I served at that time also as chairman of one of the highway committees of Liverpool City Council.
§ It was part of the folklore of Liverpool then, as it remains now, that there would come a time when tolls would no longer have to be paid and the capital debt would either be paid off or—as long ago as the 1920s, when the first tunnel, the Birkenhead Tunnel, was opened—become toll free within 20 years of opening. None of that happened.
§ Like the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, I followed the debates both in another place and in your Lordships' House. I feel that he is being slightly unfair to Members of another place. Mr Frank Field, for whom I think many Members of your Lordships have enormous admiration, put up a very strong case from the Labour Benches as to why we should use the opportunity of the Bill to deal with this part of Merseyside folklore once and for all and to confront the idea that tolls can carry on rising exponentially and can somehow be used as a regressive form of taxation to put right the problems of public transport on Merseyside.
§ Here again I part company from those who, rather sensibly on the whole, run Liverpool City Council. I think that on this occasion they are wrong. The fact is that people coming through the Mersey tunnels, whether they drive a Mercedes or a Mini, pay the same toll. That becomes an impediment to the growth of Merseyside rather than something that unites it. In 2008, in the year of the Capital of Culture, the point alluded to in this probing amendment, we have probably the greatest opportunity we have had since World War II finally to regenerate the economy of Merseyside in a spectacular way: culturally, socially and economically.
§ This wonderful opportunity has been brought about by political unity on Merseyside. All of the political parties have been united about this and there is unity on the point among the five local authorities on Merseyside. Instead of allowing the tunnels to continue to be an impediment to that, we should finally liberate them and address this issue. It is not a matter which the Merseyside tunnel authorities can be expected to deal with by themselves. It requires a lead from Government.
§ I was therefore very disappointed that, in another place, Mr John Prescott and transport Ministers lined up in order to support the Bill. Anyone reading the accounts of those debates would think that this was a government Bill rather than a Private Bill.94
§ This evening, in a characteristically measured speech for your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, referred to congestion. It is worth pointing out to your Lordships that on an average day the eight lanes of the Mersey tunnels carry about the same traffic as the four lanes of the toll-free Runcorn bridge. The Dartford crossing has the same number of lanes as the Mersey tunnels but carries twice as much traffic. The case about congestion and overuse has not been made properly. In any case, toll increases seem to have little effect on peak-time traffic, and off-peak the tunnels are underused.
§ I can remember well the debates during the 1970s about the congestion around both the Birkenhead and the Wallasey tunnels. That was dealt with by the creation, in Wallasey in particular with the motorway feeding into the tunnel, of a large area where cars could park and by removing the payment booths from Liverpool to the other side of the river. There is no congestion whatever in Liverpool, even of cars feeding into the tunnel during peak hours.
§ We have an opportunity to deal with a range of questions. I share the view of noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches who argue that we need a more environmentally friendly public policy, but I do not believe that we will achieve it through a regressive form of taxation. It would be rather like arguing that the congestion charge in London, which I support, should be limited only to people coming in from Southwark or Wandsworth. That is the practical effect that the tunnels would have through the argument for using funds generated by the Mersey tunnels for the assistance of public transport on Merseyside.
§ The year 2008 will mark a turning point for Merseyside. It would be good if that could be reflected in some way in this Private Bill before your Lordships' House. I have great pleasure in supporting the probing amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I welcome the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who is well known in and around Merseyside for fighting for the area's regeneration. I thank him for all his past hard work. I have enjoyed working closely with him to bring that about.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, went to Quarry Bank school, so he is the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, in every sense. I say to him that this Bill is not the first Bill. There was an earlier similar Bill, which had the aim of selling for a period of 25 years the right to run the tunnels and collect the tolls. That Bill was eventually abandoned, so the length of time has been due to a lack of clear policy direction in relation to private legislation.
§ Under the earlier Bill Merseytravel estimated that it would have received a premium of £50 million, plus £15 million per year in rent, which is a total income of £425 million. The first Bill involved big money, but this Bill is completely different. It is a short private Bill amending the provisions of the 1980 Act. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, that the 95 debates in the other place were very much on whether the undertakings embodied in statute on how the tunnel toll income would be spent were to be broken. That is what the debate is all about.
It has been a useful opportunity to air some of the considerations that led me to table the amendment. In the Select Committee in response to a good probing question from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, Mr Wilkinson of Merseytravel said,
My Lords, the simple answer is that under the current legislation governing Mersey Tunnel finances, a toll increase would not be justified".
That was clearly stated before the Select Committee. We shall return to that issue later.
§ I should explain that it was never my intention suddenly to withdraw over £30 million per year from Mersey Tunnel's finances. I got what I was looking for; namely that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, in a measured way—I agree with the description by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool—agreed to consider the areas that I identified. It has been a valuable debate.
§ I appreciate greatly the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and I look forward to his next contribution. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, and ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 1 [Amendment of the 1980 Act: Levying, Revision and Application of Tolls]:
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
moved Amendment No. 1:Page 3, line 35, leave out from beginning to end of line 33 on page 4.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now come to a far more substantial amendment, as noble Lords will appreciate. On page 3 of the Bill under Schedule 1 there are a number of uses to which the tunnel tolls can be put. I focus on new Section 91(3)(e), which states that the tolls authorised to be demanded, taken and recovered may be applied by the authority, Merseytravel,
in making payments to the Authority's general fund for the purpose of directly or indirectly facilitating the achievement of policies relating to public transport in its local transport plan, or for other purposes".
Again the Select Committee came to the rescue, although not as far as I now propose in the amendment, in seeking undertakings from the promoters. In the appendix to the special report of the Select Committee there is authority from Bircham Dyson Bell on behalf of the promoters, Merseytravel, to undertake to my noble friend Lord Geddes in his capacity as chairman of the committee that,
Merseytravel will only use the power sought by the new section 91(3)(e) of the County of Merseyside Act 1980 (the 1980 Act) to apply tolls 'in making payments to the authority's general fund … [including—those words] for other purposes' for the following 'other purposes'".
Then, directly or indirectly repaying the debt, a matter to which we will return in a moment. Secondly,
implementing the powers relating to noise insulation works".
Thirdly, and most importantly,
directly or indirectly facilitating the achievement of policies relating to public transport proposed to be included in Merseytravel's local transport plan (as defined by the Bill) but which are not at the relevant time so included".
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ So far, so good. But I would just mention to noble Lords that a survey was carried out by Merseytravel in advance of submitting the Bill. My noble friend Lord Geddes and other members of the Select Committee may recall that there was some exchange about the survey. I think that my noble friend, the chairman, had doubts about whether the numbers involved were sufficient in order to rely on the results of the survey, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, intervened to support the promoters and to say that 2 to 2.5 per cent of respondents to a survey could be counted on and reasonably valuable. I believe that my recollection is correct.
§ Therefore, the Select Committee was reasonably told by the promoters that the survey could be relied upon. What I do not think came across was that the overwhelming majority in the survey said that the tunnel toll should not be applied to these "other purposes". They were guided by the statutory provision under Clause 99 of the County of Merseyside Act 1980 that, after paying for the operating costs, the tolls could only be applied to reduce the debt, and once the debt had been reduced accordingly, the tolls would be lowered to cover the operating costs.
§ I shall return to the matter in a later amendment, but I just make reference to Clause 99 because, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, has already pointed out, there has been this understanding locally for years now that the income produced by tunnel tolls would be utilised to repay the debt. In fact the figures—and I have the latest figures with me and if any noble Lord wants further information I can supply it—are more or less that the current tunnel toll income is about £32.5 million per year and that the direct operating costs of the tunnels amounts to just under £12.5 million.
§ Therefore, there is a considerable sum of money there, even before any increases are allowed, which can go primarily towards repaying debt. A great deal has happened to repay the debt. We should be aware that the debt has reduced substantially, which of course was always intended. The debt rose to somewhere close to £150 million in or around 1992. The latest figure given to the Select Committee is that, thanks to these surpluses, the debt has now fallen to £94.6 million. So it has fallen from nearly £150 million to £94.6 million, thus giving rise to the belief locally that with this accelerated repayment of debt there is a real opportunity at last to fulfil the undertaking given not only to local people but in the statute—the County of Merseyside Act 1980—that the tunnel tolls will fall once the debt has been repaid.97
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, could the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, explain what the running costs are, for my own clarification? Are they basically interest and wages? If the debt is abolished, and you do not have people to man the booths, your running costs fall very substantially indeed.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I believe we will see that a great deal has been done to improve the efficiency of the tunnel toll collection, with the result that we have seen year-on-year real terms reductions in operating costs. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, who I am sure will give us the correct analysis of operating costs.
§ In 1994, operating costs were in excess of £9 million. I believe that that mainly covered wages, but it also covered a series of other costs that fall on the operation of the tunnels. Those costs have increased over the 10-year period to £12,422,000. However, that hides—and we should compliment those involved on this—quite a revolution in efficiency at a time when income has been rising. Over the same period the revenue account increased from £26,445,000 to £32,340,000 last year. So there has been an increase in revenue and an increase in efficiency. However, it still leaves this very substantial gap between the operating costs and the revenue, which, until now, has primarily gone to repay debt, as is required under statute. The result has been that the debt has decreased in the way that I have demonstrated.
§ What has now happened is that the good people of Merseyside have been told that the goalposts are going to be moved. "I know," it is said, "we undertook only to repay debt. I know that that is contained in statute. I know that we have always given an undertaking that the tunnel tolls will fall once the debt has been repaid. But we are now going to change the law. We are going to introduce a private Bill saying that not only can the tunnel tolls be increased when there is no need to increase them, but the increase will produce additional revenue. That will not go towards the maintenance of the tunnels, but will be used for a whole series of other projects".
§ The people of Merseyside, particularly the people of Wirral, object to that quite considerably. They have always believed that this undertaking, being enshrined in an Act of Parliament, was one that meant something.
§ I have put to the promoters—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, can expand on this—that there was this undertaking, and they have agreed that the undertaking was made. But the situation has changed. There are other transport needs which require financing. Although that financing should perhaps be raised in another way, in the view of the electors of the area, the promoters of this Bill have got their eyes on the surplus, and the increase in the surplus.
§ One might ask why that is so. This is where the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and his committee come into play. Some statistics and facts that were produced to them were never revealed in the other place. That evidence 98 was revealed to the committee, but it has been quite difficult for me to get my hands on copies of some of it. Fortunately, through diverse channels, it has fallen into my possession.
§ The evidence shows that under the Bill as it is now proposed, the intention is that the toll will inexorably rise every year, by RPI, without the need for a case as to why that should be so. Tolls may not rise when the increase is below 5p, but they will rise. A table has been presented showing that tolls will increase, from their present level of £1.20, to £2.40 in 25 years' time. But what is fascinating is that a huge surplus will be generated by this doubling of the tolls. What is going to happen to that? First of all, how much is it? In the table that the promoters produced, over the 25-year period the amount of surplus over and above repayment of debt, operating costs and refurbishment amounts to £288 million. So an additional £288 million is to be raised from those paying tolls.
§ Lord Bradshaw
My Lords, the noble Lord has given the impression that he is now producing to the House for the first time the facts that he is quoting. These facts were stated in public over two days. Every Member of the House was able to come and listen to what happened in Committee. Indeed, they would have been facilitated in asking questions or examining witnesses and in anything else. I cannot remember whether the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, did so. He is suggesting to the House that we somehow acted in secret.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
No, my Lords, not at all. I am praising the Select Committee for having obtained these facts for the first time. This Bill has not just occurred. It did not just appear before the Select Committee met. If it had not been for the work of the noble Lord and his colleagues on the Select Committee, I do not believe that these facts would have seen the light of day. It is thanks to their probing and their rightful demands that these facts have now come forward. I say that the Select Committee is to be congratulated and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is one of those I congratulate on having produced these figures. He does not dispute them because they are correct, of course.
An additional revenue of £288.9 million is to be produced from the motorists using the tunnel, even though there is no need for the extra money to be produced. What is the money going to be spent on? As the noble Lord may recall, in the Select Committee the barrister giving evidence on behalf of the promoters described the projects worth £288 million as a "wish list" of public transport projects that are in the local transport plan. What is all this money going to be spent on? It would be spent on more smart bus services—one of the "flagships"—upgrading the Merseyrail system, electrifying the rail line, a new railway station, improving freight lines and on improving the information supply on all public transport improvements. Then there is the gem. Mr Wilkinson said,
We … have a scheme afoot for the provision of a three-line Mersey tram, a light-rail system to be built over the next decade".
So now we know where the money is going. It is not going to improve the tunnels, as was promised year after year by the local authorities and by the Government, and which was embodied in statute. There is this wish list of transport projects.
§ My amendment would remove the wish list. Let me explain. It may be said that I am being irresponsible because if the amendment is passed then there is nothing to spend all this money on. My answer to that is not to increase the tunnel tolls. As far as I can see, the only reason to increase the tunnel tolls is to provide the additional revenue of £288.9 million to be spent on a range of other transport projects. That is not the way to utilise tunnel revenues.
§ I made the point at Second Reading that when I was a little boy—I think I was about six at the time—I was told that when I grew up, the tunnels would be free. Councillor Dowd made fun of that in the local newspapers. It has always been part of the belief locally that the tunnel tolls would come down when the debt had been repaid. My amendment seeks to remove the ability to spend on transport projects which have nothing at all to do with the tunnels.
§ My final point is that another graph was produced to the Select Committee as Exhibit B regarding the financial projections. It shows that under the current legislation the toll income at £1.20 per motorist will more than cover operating costs and refurbishment, even though that is calculated at £300 million over the next 25 years, and debt charges. So there is no need at all to increase tolls over the next 25 years to produce the income. The only reason to increase the tolls in the way I have described is to fund other transport projects.
§ I hope noble Lords are persuaded that there is at least a case to consider here, which is whether or not the motorist should pay an additional tax, because in effect that is what it is.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, the noble Lord said that he agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who argued that the difficulty was that it would be very regressive to have the increases. But improvement in public transport is progressive and not regressive. That is precisely the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has an answer to that simple piece of analysis.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, the answer which the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, may give himself is that they are regressive increases which are completely unnecessary.
§ Lord Lea of Crondall
My Lords, the point I was making is that if a chap in a Bentley is handing out £50 notes to get out of my way and go through the tunnel, that is all there is to it. But if the money is spent 100 on public transport which is not regressive but progressive in terms of income distribution, does not that cancel out the argument?
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, it does not. We are not talking about a man in a Rolls-Royce shelling out huge sums of money. We are dealing with a part of the country where there is real deprivation. Therefore, if the toll is paid by the nurse travelling to work and the cleaner travelling to Liverpool, and it is set at too high a level, then jobs will be destroyed and the situation is going to become very serious.
§ Birkenhead and Wallasey, the areas immediately adjacent to the tunnel, are sometimes described as areas for the rich. I invite the noble Lord to go to those places, where he will find deprivation the like of which he will not find anywhere else in the country. The poor motorist should not be taxed in order that some marvellous new infrastructure can be funded such as the Mersey tram. Already the cost of travel and motoring is very high. We are talking about people who need a car because there is no public transport available for cleaners, nurses and those who work unsocial hours. I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on that.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, is not the point about dealing with nurses and other lowly paid people trying to get to work to provide public transport to enable them to do so? It is exactly that group that has suffered as a result of the 36 per cent increase in real terms in bus fares since 1992, and the 3 per cent real terms increase in rail fares in Merseyside over the past 14 years at exactly the same time as motoring costs there and across the country have been falling year by year by 11 per cent. It is entirely regressive.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, what the noble Lord is saying—in what was not a question or a point of information but seemed to be a speech—was, "thou shalt not travel by car". It is perfectly in order for anyone else to travel by car, but if you are poor, do not travel by car; travel by public transport.
§ Lord Harrison
My Lords, it is said that in the case of the person driving in a Mercedes through the Wallasey or Birkenhead tunnels, or the person driving in a smaller car, the taxation raised would be regressive; but where they are joined together, and where it is suggested that they comprise 3 per cent of the population of Merseyside who must avail themselves of the tunnels in order to cross from the Wirral into Liverpool, that they are shouldering an additional burden beyond the normal income tax, beyond the normal council tax, that no other people in the 97 per cent remaining in Merseyside would have to sustain. In that sense, it is not only regressive in the sense that it distinguishes between the Mercedes driver 101 and the driver of a smaller car, but it distinguishes between one person and another who pay the same taxes but must pay an additional tax.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I want to respond to the noble Lord, although I do not want to carry on for much longer, because this will widen into an important and serious debate. I completely agree with the noble Lord, and I hope that the noble Lord will reflect on the points made from just behind him and recognise that this is an all-party approach. It is not about one side against another, it is about local concerns across all parties. Mike Storey, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool, has said that he opposes this Bill. I hope that the Liberal Democrat Benches will listen to that. There is a wide range of outraged public opinion about what is happening here, and I hope that this House will listen to the voice of the people. I give way.
§ Lord Chan
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. As we have already said, and we have heard this many times, Birkenhead and parts of the Wirral are some of the most deprived areas in the north of England, if not all of England, and they are as poor as some of the areas in Liverpool. The difference regarding the tunnel issue is that—
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I know that the noble Lord will make his contribution during the debate, but I had better move the amendment. I acknowledge the intervention, and I agree with the noble Lord. I beg to move.
§ Lord Smith of Leigh
My Lords, if I may at this point also respond, I shall try to speak just to the amendment, and I shall try to be measured and brief. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said, this matter was fully debated in the Select Committee. I am astonished that the noble Lord seemed surprised at the effectiveness of the committee under the skilled chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, in scrutinising this legislation. Do we not always say that your Lordships' House is much more effective at scrutinising legislation than another place? Are we surprised that this information came out only at the Committee stage in your Lordships' House? I am certainly not surprised, and it is due to the work that the committee does.
§ Interestingly enough, I was going to quote substantially from what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said, because he is absolutely right that, because of the work of the Select Committee, Merseytravel gave the undertaking that the Select Committee asked for prior to using the particular money. We are at the heart of the matter here about the purpose of this Bill. As the noble Lord suggested, from the time that the first tunnel was built—the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, was there to see it—but also the 102 time of the later tunnel, transport priorities and issues in Merseyside, as in other parts of the UK, have fundamentally changed. What we are trying to do is come to terms with the increased use of the car, and the problems that the increased use of the car has for major conurbations in the country. This particular legislation is trying to balance up the costs of using public transport and the costs of using the motor car.
§ We are talking about very modest increases in the costs of using the tunnel; up to 10p over three years will be the kind of increase in the tunnel tolls at this particular rate. This is not new. The application of money from motorists to use for public transport purposes was agreed in the Dartford—Thurrock Crossing Act 1988. That and the Firth of Forth road bridge Act are examples of where this principle is in place.
§ What Merseytravel wishes to do is to ensure there is a proper alternative for motorists so they do not have to use the car to go to work, but that we provide proper, safe, appropriate public transport right across Merseyside to enable people to get to work and help the regeneration of the city without actually causing it to close down. I think this was well argued and debated in the Select Committee and we should not try to overturn its excellent recommendation. I hope that noble Lords will not accept this amendment.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage to say a few words as chairman of the Select Committee to which this important Bill was committed at Second Reading in February. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, and indeed to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, for his kind words about myself and members of the committee. In that context I too would like to thank the members of my committee, who I will not say worked long since we sat for only two days, but worked extremely hard. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who is in his place, to the noble Lord, Lord Brookman, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy.
§ Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that all members of the committee—excluding their chairman, of course—pulled their weight in no uncertain terms. The chairman had some problems every now and again in trying to make sure that the weight did not tilt too far one way or the other. I think we looked at the Bill in as objective a way as we either could or should, or was possible.
§ We immediately came to the undisputed conclusion that there were five significant points in the Bill as it stood. In no particular order, they were: the introduction of the retail prices index—RPI—as far as the increases in tolls were concerned; the intervention of the Secretary of State; the use of toll money to fund other forms of transport; this contentious phrase "related or other purposes" to which my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral referred; and what can loosely be described as the noise blight on the Liverpool side of the tunnel.103
§ We had no difficulty at all, very early in our discussions, in sorting out the problems of the Secretary of State, the "related and other purposes", and the noise blight. Indeed, my noble friend has referred to those. The committee asked—or I asked on their behalf—for an undertaking from the promoters, and that was given and is indeed in the annex to the report of the committee. So, in that respect, I hope that those three points may be put to one side.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ The contentious issues were those of the introduction of the retail prices index and whether the revenue from the tunnel tolls could be used for other forms of transport. While we sat for only two days, noble Lords who have taken a close interest in this will have observed that there are some 60 pages of minutes of evidence. Quite a lot of work was done by the promoters, the petitioners and the members of the committee.
§ Regarding the retail prices index, it became clear to us that, under the Transport Act 2000, there was full justification for hypothecation—if that is the right word; it is a long one to use at this hour—to use revenue from one source for a related source. We did not discuss, because it was not our duty to discuss, whether we thought the Transport Act 2000 was a good piece of legislation or a poor piece of legislation. It was a fact. As members of the Select Committee, we had to take account of it. We heard and accepted evidence that there are two other comparable tolled crossings in the United Kingdom, although both are in England: the Dartford crossing and the Severn crossing. Both crossings are subject to the RPI and therefore, in our opinion, the move from application to the Secretary of State to an RPI mechanism was logical. Indeed, we considered that the application to the Secretary of State was something of an historical anachronism, so it made sense to put all three in the same bracket.
§ We also heard evidence that under the Transport Act 2000 the Dartford Tunnel tolls had already been hypothecated and were being used to fund other forms of transport in the area. I think it is fair to say that we were impressed by that evidence and, again, I should say that we were seeking uniformity across these three major tolled crossings. However, the Severn will not come into play in this context for some time because the second Severn bridge is a much newer construction and its debt is quite far down the line.
§ Those are the reasons why we came to our conclusions, first, with regard to the introduction of RPI and, secondly, with regard to hypothecation to other forms of transport. I repeat, it was not our job to discuss the pros and cons of the Transport Act 2000. We took it as a fact.
§ I should like to make two further points. At this hour we do not want to speak at length, but if points arise within the discussion on these amendments, it should be noted that I am trying to encompass all my comments on the amendments as if they were grouped 104 together rather than jumping up and down. That would be most uncomfortable for myself, let alone for other noble Lords.
§ My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral was, let us say, a little unfair—I put it as politely as that—when he stated the case of the evidence produced for the committee about what revenues would be raised when the tolls were increased by the RPI. That evidence was given to the committee for illustrative purposes only. I make that point very clear to the House. It was not a statement made by the promoters that that was what they would do. We asked the question: "What would happen if …?", and that is what we were given.
§ Certainly the promoters made a clear statement on a number of occasions that while under the Bill they would have the ability to increase the tolls by the RPI, that did not necessarily mean that the tolls would be so increased. Indeed, I have personal experience, along I am sure with many other noble Lords, of the Dartford crossing. While the owners have the statutory right to increase the tolls by the RPI, to the best of my knowledge the toll for a car has been £1 for as long as I can remember, and it was certainly still £1 when I last used either the tunnel or the Queen Elizabeth II bridge. So we must be careful not to get it into our heads that this is going to be a willy-nilly inexorable increase by the rate of the RPI every year. It may be, but again it may not. So the point made by my noble friend was, I repeat, for illustrative purposes only.
§ My noble friend raised one other point quite early on in the first amendment, that there was no case to increase the toll. I am afraid I am now repeating myself, which I did not mean to do. I have just said that there was no evidence given to us by the promoters that there would be an irrevocable increase in the toll.
§ I make just one other point. It is a little wide of the amendments, but I would like to put it on the record for the assistance, I hope, of any future Select Committees. In this particular case, the promoters were represented by learned counsel; the petitioners were not. I will try to pick my words as carefully as I can, but I think it would be fair to say that the petitioners' case was every bit as impressive, if not more so, than the promoters'. I just put in a plea that if either side in such circumstances wishes to retain the use of, I am sure, extremely expensive counsel, perhaps they could advise counsel that addressing a Select Committee of your Lordships' House is not the same as addressing a jury of 12 good men and true at the Old Bailey.
§ Lord Harrison
My Lords, I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. I declare an interest as a former Member for Merseyside at the European Parliament, having responsibility not only for Wirral but also for Huyton borough, Widnes and Runcorn. The relevance will come out later in my remarks. During that period I was responsible with many other good people for obtaining objective 1 status for Merseyside, which included the second largest borough of the five boroughs, of the five councils, which was Wirral. It 105 was recognised by Brussels that there are areas of real deprivation in Wirral, which may not be known to all your Lordships.
§ The Bill adds insult to injury. The injury has already been talked about at some length. That injury started 70 years ago when it was declared that when the debt charges had been paid off, the people of Merseyside would celebrate the opportunity to use the tunnels built then and some years later—the Wallasey tunnel—toll free. That is now not going to happen. It rests on the promoters to say in answer to the people of Merseyside—who had that belief for so many years—why that promise has now been reneged upon.
§ In the course of this debate, the supposed parallels between the Merseyside tunnels and tunnels and bridges elsewhere have been mentioned, including both the Dartford tunnel bridge and the Severn bridge. I make it clear that there is absolutely no parallel whatever. Those two instances are clearly major regional, indeed national, thoroughfares. The Merseyside tunnels serve people locally so that 85 per cent of those who use those tunnels are local to Merseyside, to Wirral. The 15 per cent who come from outside include Chester and Cheshire, where I live, and, importantly, north Wales. I reiterate the point that the only choice that anyone has south of Liverpool to cross into Liverpool is to take an alternative 50-mile run through Huyton in order to get into the city. Those of us who live on the other side are obliged to use the Mersey tunnels, as for instance I am when I have to make regular visits to Broadgreen Hospital every six months or so.
§ Comparison has been made with the Dartford and Severn bridges and so on, but I should like noble Lords who know a town or a city well, perhaps through representing it, to imagine that a certain area of that town or city—for example, the south-west—was isolated and that, unlike in any other suburb, its people were obliged to pay a toll to gain access to the centre. You would think that unfair—but it is exactly what is being proposed here. It would be unfair on the people of Wirral, principally, who mostly use the tunnels for accessing Liverpool, that such a burden should fall particularly on that area.
§ It has been said by some of my colleagues on these Benches that we should look at the transport policies which will ensue from the surplus. I shall return to that issue later.
§ What are the insults that are added to the injury of the failure to write off a debt, which people have wanted for the past 70 years? First, the Bill confirms the worst fears enshrined in our novel idea that once the debt had been paid the tolls would be lifted; that dream has now faded for the people of Merseyside.
§ Secondly, it is suggested that the RPI should be applied on a regular basis, wholly regardless of the costs and needs of running the tunnels. We know that at the moment the revenues are something like £32 million and that the costs of running the tunnels are only some £12.5 million—a huge difference. Would it not be wiser to retain the system that we have had for some time whereby proper application is made 106 to an independent body and a judgment is given on the facts presented? In that way, we can arrive at a proper increase, if an increase is required, for any such tolls. To increase fees by the RPI alone is to do so without regard to true costs.
§ Let me ring an alarm bell by telling your Lordships that retained in this legislation is the existing system whereby the promoters can go back to the independent body and ask for an increase above the retail prices index if required. To some of us, that looks like having your cake and eating it.
§ I also suggest that the automatic application of the retail prices index for the tolls would encourage complacency among those who run the system and would mean a lack of accountability and transparency because the costs would not be examined in as much detail as they are currently.
§ The third insult is that the tunnels under the Mersey river will be used as a milch cow to provide surpluses of money to be applied to other purposes. It will establish a kind of de facto ultra vires: "We will take money in for the purposes supposedly of running the tunnels, but we will take more money from you for other purposes". As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, illustrated, such purposes can be related to transport policies. In the original proposals, I understand, they could have been applied to tourism purposes. No one in this House is more enthusiastic about supporting the tourism industry than I am, but I suggest that it is not a proper application of the revenue to take those moneys and apply them to something which, by now, is quite unrelated to the initial purpose.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Is there a case for the Bill? We are told that the present procedure is cumbersome. I remind noble Lords that, under the present procedure, only one month of consultation is required by those who wish to put in objections to any toll rises. If the present procedure is cumbersome, let us address that matter and not tack on to it so many of the other issues which have now been added to the Bill.
§ Is there a need for safety? Of course, safety is a hugely important issue. However, the November 2003 issue of Merseytravel News—that is, the promoters themselves—declared that the two Mersey tunnels are among the safest in Europe. Indeed, a consortium of motoring organisations in the United Kingdom and in the European Union ranked the Wallasey tunnel and the Birkenhead tunnel number one and number three respectively in terms of safety. Safety is hugely important, but the promoters are over egging the argument in saying that there is a huge problem there.
§ It is argued that more money is needed for prudential finances. The truth of the matter is that since 1992, those authorities which run the tunnels have always been in surplus. Indeed, as recently as 2002–03, they paid off £3 million of debt—good for them—but early. How were they able to do that if other purposes needed to be served in the interim? I believe that the committee which was chaired by the 107 noble Lord, Lord Geddes, also learned from Merseytravel that, assuming an inflation rate of 2.5 per cent and a 1 per cent increase in the vehicles going through the tunnels, there would be no requirement for raising the tolls until 2028. That is a clear indication that the surpluses of Merseytravel and the tunnels are well into the black.
§ The Bill provides for noise insulation for the Wallasey tunnel. That would benefit people that I have represented for many years and cost £300,000. I think that all of us would agree with it, but I wonder why it took 30 years for anyone to decide to do something positive to help those whose houses lie over Wallasey tunnel cutting obtain home insulation.
§ I turn to congestion. If it is a problem, it should not be used as an ad hoc pretext for introducing congestion charging. If it is thought that congestion charging of some description is required, Merseyside requires a comprehensive approach which takes in all of Merseyside, including Huyton in the east which I represent. During the 10 years in which I was an MEP for that area, I was summoned a number of times by people in Runcorn and Widnes to complain about the surplus traffic there because cars turned away from the prohibitive charges of the Mersey tunnels, but I was not alerted to the problems of so-called congestion at the Mersey tunnels.
§ I am a regular user of those tunnels. Only the weekend before last, my family and I visited the Mersey River Festival in Liverpool. We had a trouble-free passage through the tunnels then and on return. The myth about the congestion of the tunnels is simply that. The Dartford crossing has eight lanes—the same number as contained in the Mersey tunnels. Why can it adequately take double the traffic that flows through those tunnels?
§ The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, said that opposition had been drawn from all sides of the political spectrum. I join my Labour MEP colleagues on the Wirral, all of whom except one oppose the Bill, for understandable reasons. I join the AA and RAC, who condemn it. I join the Wirral chamber of commerce, which says that the proposal is detrimental to the wider Merseyside economy. I join the Liverpool chamber of commerce, which points out that Warrington, a near neighbour of ours, now advises inward investment for the setting up of factories, because if one goes to Warrington one goes toll-free.
§ For all those reasons, I support the amendment, which goes to the nub of the matter. It will confine the moneys raised through the tolls of the Mersey tunnels for the purposes for which they were originally set; namely, to make sure that the refurbishment and running of the tunnels could be adequately carried out for the people of Merseyside. This is a bad Bill. I hope that noble Lords will think about it very carefully and reject it.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I voice my support for one reason and one reason only. My only interest to declare is that, when my father-in-law ran the 108 Liverpool Garden Festival, my wife, my three children and I went from north Wales in a car and did not have a single penny on us, so I had to give the toll man a cheque for 60p or something. It was one of the more embarrassing moments of my life. I am delighted to see that Liverpool has become the city of culture. After all, it was founded on the slave trade and produced the only Irish Home Rule MP on the English mainland. Those historical anomalies appeal.
§ What worries me very considerably is the integrity of government. If governments undertake that something will happen, they must carry that out. They must not say, simply because circumstances alter, "We see a moneybag there; we're going to help ourselves to it". One cannot say in an Act of Parliament, "When the debt is paid off we will stop the tolls being charged", and then, because one sees that things are going rather well and the money will be paid off early, help one's self to that money. Frankly, that is dishonest.
§ I know that the Dartford tunnel has the powers, but two blacks do not make a white. When the Dartford tunnel's debt was paid off, it was originally going to be toll-free, but along came the Government and said. "Yippee! There's some money. We're going to hypothecate it and nick it". That is not an acceptable way for any government to behave.
§ I also suggest that, under the hypothecation of revenue—that is what we are talking about—Liverpool's aim of spending £X will mean that it will not have to raise so much council tax for all the things that it wants to do, because it will have another source of revenue. One man's tax benefit is another man's tax payment and there is no way around that. I sincerely hope that for the integrity of Government and the principle of non-hypothecation of taxes, the amendment will be carried.
There is a splendid passage in Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He says of Septimius Severus:
He promised only to betray, he flattered only to ruin; and however he might occasionally bind himself by oaths and treaties, his conscience, obsequious to his interests, always released him from the inconvenient obligation".
It strikes me that Liverpool Council is finding that its conscience is obsequious to its own interests and will release it from any inconvenient obligations if it can lay its hands on extra money from the Mersey Tunnel.
§ Lord Luke
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I find it pleasant to be here with what I might call "Liverpool supporters" from both sides of the House. I remember well the debate we had about Liverpool and the City of Culture. Many of us were delighted that Liverpool won that competition. What I want to say is in no way anti-Liverpool.
§ Unfortunately, we are talking about money raised to cross a big river by tunnel into a great conurbation which will try to use that money in future to do its own business; to make its own provision for public transport. There is nothing wrong with providing public transport, but the local authority is trying to use money which, to my mind, is not its.109
§ It is wrong for money obtained on one premise to be spent on another. I would disagree with my noble friend Lord Geddes if he said that what is happening at Dartford and on the Severn is all right but it is not all right on the Mersey. I believe that it is quite wrong at Dartford and on the Severn and it is wrong for the Bill to raise money which is nothing more or less than a tax. It is discriminatory and thoroughly unfair and I strongly support my noble friend's amendment.
§ Baroness Scott of Needham Market
My Lords, I shall be brief. We have been joined on these Benches by my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine. My noble friend is a new Member of your Lordships' House and, like all new Members, I am sure that she has been busily reading her Companion. I am also sure that she must be completely bemused by what would appear to be the collapse of the normal rules.
§ Here we are, at Third Reading, having exactly the same debate, but at considerably more length, as those we had at Second Reading. We also established a committee which spent two days looking in great detail at the issues and now, simply because some Members of your Lordships' House do not like its conclusions, we are being forced to listen to the whole thing again and rerun it. It seems to me that someone from any other parliamentary democracy in this world Would find it quite extraordinary that an important but nevertheless entirely local issue was being considered in this way.
§ I have no Liverpudlian credentials, which I make clear at the outset, but I have a background in local government and a passion for it. I have spent 12 years developing local transport plans, and the idea that Members of your Lordships' House in this forum, however much they believe in what they are saying or however much experience they might have, can sit and unpick the local transport plan which has been developed by the people of Merseyside through their elected representatives is bizarre. Equally bizarre is the notion that somehow one can separate the issue of the tunnels from the issue of the buses or the ferries. When one is planning a transport network for any area, it is clear that all those issues are interlinked. One part cannot be unpicked from the other.
§ I shall say no more now other than simply to urge Members of your Lordships' House to defeat this amendment. If the work of the local transport authority were to be defeated tonight by noble Lords who have the stamina to be in the House at 9.15 or 9.30 at night, that would be a travesty of democracy, and personally I should be ashamed to be part of that.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, in seeking to elucidate the procedures of your Lordships' House for her noble friend, the noble Baroness who has just resumed her seat suggested that, at this stage in the proceedings of a Bill, there was something mildly improper in the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, moving amendments or in your Lordships debating those amendments. There is nothing improper in that. Until the Bill is enacted, if it is to be enacted, we are 110 here to scrutinise it, to flesh out the intentions of the promoters and to seek clarification of the intentions behind the Bill.
§ In his formidable address this evening, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, pinpointed some of the key questions. He made it very clear that there is no partisan dispute here. It is not, as the noble Baroness has just implied, an entirely local issue. On Merseyside, it is a very important local issue, and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Luke, that he will not find disfavour in the city of Liverpool because the traffic moves in both directions through the Mersey Tunnel. Instead of being barriers, as they have become, the tunnels should be part of the central gathering together of the Merseyside community, assisting in its economic, social and cultural life. Therefore, I believe that his remarks in the House tonight will be welcomed.
§ In his earlier intervention, the noble Earl reminded us of the importance of history and, indeed, he mentioned the Romans. I know that they built roads and viaducts but probably not tunnels, but he was right to remind us of the cynicism that can be engendered when Acts of Parliament are passed and promises are made which are not then delivered. If there are national implications from tonight's proceedings, cynicism is certainly one of them.
§ Promises are made again and again that 20 years will elapse after the original construction of the first tunnel and then all the original debts will be wiped out, the construction costs will be paid and then it will become part of the national road network. The same was said when the second tunnel was opened. Of course, those promises came to nothing.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, said that this is a reasonable measure and that it will not be misused. Even the chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, in a very important and measured contribution said that he did not think that it would necessarily lead to an exponential increase in tolls. But the truth on Merseyside is that the triumph of experience over hope has meant that there has been an exponential increase in tolls as the years have gone by. Therefore, there is every reason to assume that the same will happen again.
§ There is another reason why this is not only a local issue: it is because we are now seeing an inconsistent pattern of decisions being made in many parts of the country. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, talked about parallels with Dartford and the Severn, and those have been referred to in other speeches. Perhaps I may extend that parallel to Scotland.
§ The organisation called SKAT (Skye and Kyle Against Tolls)—strongly supported, incidentally, by its local Member of Parliament, Mr John Farquhar Munro, a Liberal Democrat—has been calling for the abolition of tolls. Mr Jim Wallace used to serve with me in another place. Indeed, when I was Chief Whip of the noble Baroness's party, he was the Deputy Whip when he served as a Member of Parliament in Shetland. These days, he is serving as the Deputy First 111 Minister. On 3 June, he announced to the Scottish Parliament that Skye tolls will be abolished, possibly as early as this year.
§ Another group is CAST (Campaign Against Severn Tolls). It is led by Mr John Warman, a councillor in—
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, in a moment. Mr John Warman is a councillor in Neath Port Talbot and is another member of the noble Baroness's party. I am not saying this to embarrass her; I am pointing out that there are inconsistent views in many parts of the United Kingdom, and to suggest that this is merely a local issue, as though we are wasting your Lordships' time this evening, is quite improper.
§ Baroness Scott of Needham Market
My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes to embarrass me he will have to try much harder than that. In that case, Scottish politicians are discussing a Scottish issue and it is a question of appropriateness. I suggest that here it is not entirely appropriate for Members of your Lordships' House to spend so much time discussing issues that we have already discussed at Second Reading and in Committee and to go into levels of detail which I do not think we are properly equipped to deal with here.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, I have been on two Private Bill committees, among others, and on both occasions the House behaved exactly like this. It did not agree with what was said by the committee, and chucked it out. I happened to agree with the committee and I was very cross. That is what happened and it is a perfectly normal procedure, which has been going on for a long time. If we cannot act as a Parliament, what is the point of us? Some may ask that anyway, but that is beside the point.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, to bring us back to order I think I should now give way to the noble Lord, Lord, Faulkner of Worcester.
§ Lord Faulkner of Worcester
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. Before he leaves the Scottish point entirely, the opposition to tolls on the Skye Bridge was not a transport issue; it was the fact that the bridge was privately financed and the revenue from the tolls was going to a private company. That is wholly different from the concept of the Mersey tunnels where the toll revenue will be used for the benefit of the people of Merseyside, on public transport and other desirable projects.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, if it were going to be used for the benefit of the people of Merseyside, it should be raised through national taxation based on people's ability to pay. What is unfair is to tax on a second headcount a small group of people. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, pointed out, people living in communities in places such as Birkenhead and 112 Wallasey are living in some of the most underprivileged parts of the country. Although I often share many of the points of view of the noble Lord, I do not on this occasion.
§ The tunnels have not made losses since 1992. It is worth remembering that something like £0.5 billion has been collected in tolls since the first tunnel was opened. This is not just a local issue. These are vast sums of public money. It is quite improper that the money should be raided in the way that the noble Lord suggested, and simply misappropriated and used on people's private wish lists. It should be used in order to liberate the tunnels and then if money is to be raised for these other projects, let it be done through taxation.
§ The tunnels have not made losses since 1992 despite the fact that all expenditure on renewals, whether or not exceptional, is financed from tolls rather than from borrowings. It is also despite the fact that the tunnels are required to make payments of some £3.7 million per year in respect of the losses that were initially financed from rates between October 1988 and March 1992. Indeed, in the last published accounts the authority decided that there was sufficient money to repay an extra £3 million of external borrowings, not on the projects to which the noble Lord just referred. As the debt falls each year, the annual charge for interest and for further loan repayment falls making it unlikely that the tunnels will make losses.
§ In the years from the opening of the Birkenhead Tunnel in 1934 to October 1988 the authorities paid less money into the tunnels than they took out as a contribution to their ferries. They put in £1.5 million but took out £3.6 million for ferries. Following the opening of the Wallasey Tunnel in 1971, the tunnels made losses. These losses were the responsibility of the authorities but they were allowed to add them to the tunnels' debt until 1988. They—by that time Merseytravel—were forced to stop this from October 1988. From then until March 1992 the losses were borne by Merseytravel and ultimately ratepayers and community charge payers.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, indicated, that has had a grievous effect on the Merseyside community. That is borne out by the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and, indeed by the Wirral Chamber of Commerce, who state:
While the Chamber favours enhanced and improved public transport it does not believe that this should be achieved by penalising business through increased tolls. The Chamber's view is that tolls are detrimental to the wider Merseyside economy and that of the Wirral in particular
In the briefings they have prepared for tonight's debate, the AA and the RAC make similar points. The AA state:
Motorists on Merseyside have paid tolls to drive under the Mersey for nearly 70 years. The Mersey tunnels are vital transport arteries and the tolls should not be an extra burden to family budgets, or an additional cost to industry and commerce on Merseyside".
§ The RAC says that the RAC Foundation is opposed to using revenue from the tolls as subsidies for ferries and other public transport services. The tolls were never intended for that purpose and toll-paying 113 motorists would see no benefit from such subsidies. Any surplus income from the tolls should be used to pay off the debts from the tunnels. That point is contained in Amendment No. 1.
§ No one on Merseyside has ever been in any doubt about the original commitment to make the tunnels toll-free, either by repayment of the original construction costs or by 1954, 20 years after the opening. Since then, £0.5 billion has been collected in tolls. Since 1992, as I said to your Lordships, the tunnels have been in surplus. The cynical Merseyside public have rumbled that successive tunnel operators simply see that the tunnels are a convenient milch cow, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, and they will go on pumping it for their own pet projects.
§ Instead of the tunnels acting as a stimulus for economic and social unity on Merseyside they have become a barrier and divide one district from the other four. I am going to take my lead from the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, because the amendment encompasses the point of all the amendments before your Lordships and I certainly do not intend to say any more tonight. The debate on the Bill and the amendments gives the Government an opportunity to deal with a historic anomaly and a longstanding injustice.
§ If in tabling the amendments he hastens the day when a government are willing to do something about it, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, will be entitled to the long-term gratitude of the people of Merseyside.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. I was surprised but not astounded that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, did not take issue with me on any of my main substantial points. First, he did not dispute that increasing the tolls is completely unnecessary. There is no economic case for increasing the tolls at the present time. That was what Merseytravel explained to the Select Committee and he has not disputed it.
§ Secondly, he did not dispute the fact I put forward that, in the words of the promoters, there is a wish list of projects on which the surplus money is to be spent that will increase inexorably with the amount that the tolls are increased unnecessarily. The wish list includes a range of things and the noble Lord did not dispute any of the illustrations I gave; for instance, the Mersey tram.
§ Lord Smith of Leigh
My Lords, the wish list is contained in the local transport plan produced by the Mersey Passenger Transport Authority and supported by the five districts of Merseyside.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I am thrilled that the noble Lord used my phrase, "wish list" because that is my point. The local transport authority wishes to spend tunnel income on a range of other projects that may have nothing to do with the tunnels. It may wish to help fund another toll-free bridge—that is another project in the pipeline. There was a debate in the other place as to whether it should be toll-free. It 114 comes as no surprise to this House to hear that all sides of the House were united in believing that another bridge across the Mersey must be toll-free.
§ The reason is that we are talking about one of the poorest urban areas in the United Kingdom and also in the European Union, with only 73.1 per cent of the average EU GDP. Why on earth do we penalise the motorist seeking to get to work, to much needed jobs—indeed, to place in jeopardy their jobs—by seeking to increase tolls unnecessarily to provide income for the wish list?
§ I appreciate the work carried out by my noble friend Lord Geddes and his colleagues on the Select Committee. They did a first class job. They produced the list of wish list projects and the £288 million figure. I acknowledge with him that it is for only illustrative purposes, because it covers the next 25 years. There could be no other explanation for these figures, other than they are for illustrative purposes. So I join the noble Lord in acknowledging that.
§ However, there is another point which has not arisen in the debate, which is that we hear from the Deputy Prime Minister that Merseytravel is going to be abolished. It will be replaced by a travel authority covering the whole of the north-west. Therefore, the provision is not only for illustrative purposes, it sets in concrete a sort of regime of increasing tolls which will fund transport projects that have nothing to do with the tunnel. That was really my point. I acknowledge the valuable work of the noble Lord and his colleagues.
§ All I shall say is that I am sure that I am going to upset some noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. If we are to complete this business by 10 o'clock, I do not think that I have time to respond to all noble Lords who have spoken.
§ I hope that the noble Baroness who spoke on the issue of democracy will recognise that the people this affects most of all, the tunnel users, will be delighted that we have spent some time in this Chamber debating the problems they will face. I believe that there will be an acknowledgement that it was this Chamber which debated these key issues and not the other place. That is no reflection on people such as Ben Chapman because they sought to raise these issues. I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, made a very valuable speech, and indeed may be very upset with what I am about to do, as did the noble Lords, Lord Chan and Lord Alton. In all the circumstances, this has been a good debate and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
moved Amendment No. 2:Page 5, line 47, leave out "the same percentage as" and insert "the percentage given by the formula—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I just want to press the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, on the acknowledgement by Merseytravel that if it is allowed 115 to increase the tolls every year it will at least allow efficiency savings to be set by the Secretary of State so that the increase will be RPI-X. I believe the issue is set out very clearly in the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Smith of Leigh
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the brevity with which he introduced the amendment. I shall try to be brief in response, but I may have to be a little longer. I have more sympathy with this particular amendment because there is an understandable fear that if Merseytravel were allowed to increase the amount of tolls by inflation year on year, what then is its incentive to operate in an efficient manner?
§ I hope that I shall be able to show that those fears are misplaced. Like the rest of local government, Merseytravel is subject to a best-value regime. That means that both external auditors and elected members have a duty to ensure that the authority is operating as efficiently as possible. The amendment will be an additional layer of bureaucracy operating through the Secretary of State and duplicating the provisions of the existing legislation.
§ Fundamentally, the Bill's intentions are part of the transport strategy for Merseyside and it will not allow the real cost of the tunnel to fall in relation to other forms of transport, as we have already debated. It is also important to add that in the past when Merseytravel deemed that the economy of Merseyside could not stand increases, which were then permitted under existing legislation, it did not bring them in for several years. So I hope the noble Lord will realise that this is not a public utility, and I hope that the best-value regime will counter his fears.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, for that response. I accept the assurance he has given. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 3 not moved.]
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
moved Amendment No. 4:Page 6, line 26, at end insert—("(12) The provisions of this section relating to the revision of tolls shall not apply if there is no net debt outstanding. Instead tolls must be set at a level just sufficient to cover the payment of the costs and expenses incurred in managing, operating and maintaining the tunnels undertaking.(13) For the purposes of subsection (12), "net debt" means the amount of any debt less reserves and unapplied toll income.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we come to another very key amendment, which is the undertaking in the County of Merseyside Act 1980 that once the debt which was incurred in building the tunnels has been repaid, the tolls will be reduced to a level sufficient to cover the operating costs. This was part of the undertaking—which I must say was referred to very eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool—that not only 116 would the tunnel tolls be utilised in reducing the debt, but once the debt had been paid off—which now seems likely in a comparatively short time, bearing in mind the length of time the tunnels have been in operation—then the tolls would be reduced.
I referred earlier to Clause 99 of the County of Merseyside Act 1980. This, I remind your Lordships, is the law at the present time. The promoters are seeking to repeal the County of Merseyside Act 1980, insofar as it deals with this issue. Clause 99 states,
On the completion of the payment of all sums specified … the tolls authorised by this Part shall be reduced to such level as shall be appropriate for meeting the costs specified in paragraphs (a) to (c)".
What that means, my Lords, is fulfilment of the undertaking that I thought the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, referred to very eloquently: that as soon as the debt has been repaid then the tolls would be reduced. I think the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the noble Lord, Lord Chan, have already referred to the solemn and binding undertakings not only spoken, not only understood by all those who live locally, but actually enshrined in an Act of Parliament.
§ Admittedly, it is a private Act of Parliament. It is quite difficult to get a copy of the County of Merseyside Act 1980. Indeed, the Printed Paper Office said "Please don't take it away, it's the only one we have". But it is terribly important, because it contains an undertaking to the people of Merseyside that the tolls would be reduced as soon as the debt had been paid.
§ I think I have already referred to the illustrative figures that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, and his committee were able to have produced before them. They show that, first, there is no need for the tunnel tolls to be increased. Secondly, the only real justification, for illustrative purposes, for increasing the tolls is to provide money for a wish list of projects covering areas which have nothing to do with tunnels, and nothing to do with the motorists paying the tolls, contrary to the solemn and binding undertaking made to them many years ago that one day the tunnel tolls would be reduced.
§ We have something absolutely fundamental here. It does not inhibit Merseytravel in any way at all. It merely says that once you have repaid the debt, then you must reduce the tolls. That, surely, is the basis on which the whole administration of the tunnels has been conducted for many years. I beg to move.
§ Lord Chan
My Lords, as a resident of Wirral, I rise to support this amendment. It illustrates—and here I thank the Select Committee for asking some questions—best value. It is not that we resent paying tunnel tolls, but we want to make sure that it represents best value and that the views of users are taken into consideration. Merseytravel does not have any representatives of users on its board at all. That, perhaps, is part of the trouble here: there is no guarantee that the users' views have been taken into consideration. 117 What we have heard tonight demonstrates that, because profits have been made in the tunnel tolls collected over the past 10 years, we have the assurance that this authority would use the money in a way supported by all the users. We also realise that we cannot have a wish list of the projects that we want. As one who has been living and working on Wirral for 25 years, and in several hospitals in Liverpool, I say it is just not possible to have public transport at night. That will cover nurses and other related workers so I support this amendment.
§ Lord Geddes
My Lords, I had no intention of intervening again and I am in no way a parliamentary draftsman. But it has only just occurred to me that if the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral is to go in as a new subsection (12), at line 26 on page 6, it could well be in contravention of, or not in happy juxtaposition with, subsections (4) and (5) on page 4 of the Bill. I have a feeling, although I repeat that I am not a parliamentary draftsman, that the two do not sit very comfortably together.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I am very happy to rush to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that they do sit beautifully together. I am so advised by parliamentary draftsmen who spent some considerable time looking at this issue.
§ If I may summarise, the amendment does not bind what the money is spent on, but once the debt has been repaid, it overrides the need to increase the spending over, above and beyond the operating costs. I suppose that under the Bill, if the amendment is passed, the wish list could well become a reality, but would have to stop once the debt was repaid. As always, my noble friend raised a very important point but it is one that has exercised the grey matter of those much more accomplished than me in thinking through these issues. I assure the noble Lord that it is in order. I agree very much with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chan. In a way, I rather regret that I cannot divide the House on this. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Smith of Leigh.)
§ Lord Triesman
My Lords, I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who contributed to a powerful and positive debate. In particular, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Wirral and Lord Smith of Leigh, who have been the principals in the discussion. I also particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, not just for the report of his committee but for the balance and wisdom that he injected into the discussion, which I deeply appreciated.
§ The Government have previously stated that they have no objections to the aims of the Bill, which they regard as useful and prudent. The four main aims of 118 the Bill are first, to permit Merseytravel to increase tolls at the tunnel, based on the retail prices index formula, without having to seek the permission of the Secretary of State for Transport. As has been pointed out in your Lordships' debate, this is a discretionary power that uses the RPI, which is a sensible, almost universally accepted standard that, broadly speaking, deals with the movement in the real value of money. It is appropriate as a sensible response on this occasion.
§ Secondly, the Bill will remove the present requirement to reduce tolls once debts arising from the construction and operation of the tunnels have been repaid. Thirdly, it will permit Merseytravel to use some of the proceeds from toll revenues for wider transport objectives in Merseyside. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, said, this obviously relies to a considerable extent on local judgments made by local authorities in a way that suggests that they are taking a serious view of what is needed for their communities.
§ Finally, it will give Merseytravel the ability to undertake and finance noise insulation work to properties on the Kingsway tunnel approach to roads on the Wirral. The first of the aims of the Bill is broadly similar to those which already apply at the Severn and Dartford crossings. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, made the point about consistency and uniformity. Whatever one thinks of the consistency and uniformity which was being sought, it is none the less quite right to say that it is intended to achieve that. I say with great respect to my noble friend Lord Harrison that I do not think that the dissimilarities are so great as to suggest that that is not an appropriate way of measuring this piece of legislation.
§ Lord Harrison
My Lords, does my noble friend acknowledge that the percentage of people who use the Dartford tunnel and bridge and the Severn bridge represent about 85 per cent of local people? I believe that he would not.
§ Lord Triesman
My Lords, as I said, I believe that the arrangement suggested is broadly along similar lines. It makes arrangements which will allow for the use of revenues in a way that is broadly similar. That is a proposition to which the Government are not opposed especially as the tunnels are owned and operated by a passenger transport authority made up of members from the Merseyside local authorities and as such subject to democratic accountability in those areas.
§ The Bill will also allow Merseytravel to apply to the Secretary of State for Transport for an above the RPI increase under similar procedures which already apply at the tunnels and at nearly all other statutory, tolled undertakings in England. It seems eminently sensible to retain this ability to be able to deal with the unforeseen circumstances that can occur. The Government are satisfied that the second undertaking given by Merseytravel to the Select Committee that above RPI increases will be applied only in exceptional circumstances demonstrates Merseytravel's commitment not to take such increases lightly.119
§ As regards the second of the aims, the Government are aware of the strength of local feeling. That has been absolutely clear in this evening's debate—and who can doubt it, based on what has been said? There is a good deal of local feeling about allowing Mersey tunnel to dispense with the requirement to reduce tolls once the debt has been repaid. Schedule 1 of the amended Bill contains a subsection (5) to the amendment of Section 91 of the 1980 Act. This new subsection places a duty on Merseytravel to consult with the people of Merseyside once all debts have been repaid, on the justification for not reducing tolls and retaining the ability to increase them.
§ I have been riveted by the arguments both at Second Reading and this evening, which bore some relationship to the Second Reading debate as regards the promises that were made 70 years ago. I was wondering, not frivolously, that when cars were preceded by men with flags, which was the law of the land, whether the apprehensions that occurred at that time were based probably on an indelible belief that it was indispensable to the safety of all of those using the roads. The truth is that, in dealing with road transport, circumstances change very considerably.
§ I do not believe in all conscience that any of us would simply apply the criteria that were used 70 years ago. People would not do it because they wished to betray their word, which they should not, or to induce cynicism, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested that such use might do in the processes of government; but only in order to try to reflect on what is happening now—the demands of safety, traffic management and the environmental demands which I have no doubt were not in anybody's mind when these issues were first discussed.
§ I ask noble Lords to consider whether it is appropriate on this occasion, as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has invited us, to be bound by the past or to be serious about what might be required in the future.
§ The third aim of the Bill is broadly in line with the options available to local authorities through legislation that allows them to introduce road user charging.
§ The Government are satisfied that the criteria for the purposes of the toll revenue may be applied as sought by new Section 91(3) of the County of Merseyside Act 1980, taken together with the safeguards contained in new Section 91(4) of the 1980 Act, and the first undertaking given by Merseytravel to the Select Committee with regard to other purposes. These provide adequate assurances that the management, the operation and the maintenance of the tunnels will take precedence and that revenues will not be used to fund irrelevances.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has questioned the appropriateness of what I think he was describing in the case of Merseytravel as a tax on tunnel users to fund other transport projects on Merseyside. I do not mean to put words in his mouth; if I have, no doubt he will correct me. My noble friend Lord Harrison was 120 also driving at that expression. The use of net proceeds from tolls and/or charging revenue for wider transport objectives, is not unique. The Government have already introduced similar powers in legislation allowing for the introduction of road user charging in a variety of contexts, and in these cases the relevant legislation suggests that the net revenue from road user charging must be used for transport purposes, and so it is in this case.
§ The Government welcome the introduction of the powers sought in the final aim, as we understand that this is responding to long-standing concerns voiced by local residents. It is plainly high time to deal with the noise pollution option. It is easy to see why the discomfort of people should be addressed in this way and why it is important to remedy it now. The Government are satisfied that this Bill has, rightly, been subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament and a good deal of detailed scrutiny tonight and that all sides have had an opportunity to voice their opinions. No-one could say that that has not happened tonight. In view of that, and because the Bill does not contradict Government policy, the Government have no objections to the Bill receiving Royal Assent.
§ Lord Hunt of Wirral
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister who, throughout the passage of the Bill, has maintained the correct approach by the Government on private Bills, which is a neutral approach. He has reinforced that again tonight. I thank him for that, because when it comes to issues as controversial as this, which transcend parties, that is not the time for the Government to come in and dictate which way the House should vote. I welcome what the Minister has said tonight.
I also hope that he will acknowledge that I have, in a series of debates, sought to improve the Bill. Indeed, I made the amendments that I have proposed available to the promoters of the Bill as long ago as May. I asked them to come and meet me so that we could find a way through to meet the substantial concerns that exist locally. I had issued the same invitation to them last November. I was almost a spectator at a meeting between three Labour Members of Parliament, Merseytravel, and me. The conversation was the most heated that I have ever heard, with the director general of Merseytravel threatening one of the Labour MPs with a defamation action if the Labour MP repeated what he had said in the Gallery outside the House. I then became aware that there were considerably strong and robust feelings on all sides. That is why in May, I said to Merseytravel, "These are the two key amendments that I will be seeking to move at Third Reading. Can we discuss them? What is your attitude to them?"
Today, I received a letter from the promoters, which sets out some reasons, and ends up saying,For these reasons Merseytravel does not consider that any of your amendments is acceptable or that any useful purpose would be served by meeting you to discuss them".I say to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, that his demeanour in this debate has been very constructive and very positive, but I do think that those instructing 121 him to move, That this Bill do now pass, need a little bit of a lesson in how to treat an aged Member of this House who has offered the opportunity to improve the Bill, recognising the hugely emotive issues that we have heard about.
I think that it has been a good debate. On the question of noise pollution, in acknowledging what the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, has said, I think that it escaped the Select Committee, and indeed the Government and the promoters, that thanks to this Government's Local Government Act 2000 power already exists to insulate those properties. Under Section 2 the Act states that:Every Local Authority are to have power to do anything which they consider is likely to achieve any one or more of the following objects … (c) the promotion or improvement of the environmental well-being of their area".So I rushed to a learned Silk, of which there is a smattering in and around this Chamber, and was assured that that provision for the money to be found and these homes to be insulated, thanks to the Government's Local Government Act 2000, is perfectly in order. Indeed they have not been insulated for 30 years, so for 30 years people have been waiting and most of them have moved on somewhere else, but there is the power under the Local Government Act to do that.
Armed with that, and for all the reasons I have endeavoured to give, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Leigh, will seek to persuade us that the Bill should pass when he replies to this debate. I hope he will recognise that there is now a feeling that existing legislation covers the undertakings that have always been given.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, that it was not 70 years ago. On the construction of the Birkenhead tunnel a promise was made that when the debt was repaid the tolls would disappear altogether. There was then a need for a second tunnel, the Wallasey tunnel. Because of interest rates and construction costs at the time, the debt suddenly ballooned to £150 million. But again it was repeated in the 1980 Act that once the debt had been repaid—admittedly, £150 million—the tunnel tolls would fall. So it is not only 70 years ago, it has been every year since, until this Bill comes forward to repeal the existing statutory undertaking that the tunnel tolls would be reduced.
There was also consultation, which I did not include in my earlier comments because I found I was being interrupted on all sides and therefore I felt that the debate should proceed. But as I mentioned, there was indeed a survey of local people—a survey which we are told by the promoters was perfectly adequate with a good return—in which 71 per cent of those who responded said that they believed that as soon as the debt was repaid the tunnel tolls must fall. Also, 67 per cent said that the only purpose to which the surplus revenues from the tunnel tolls could be put was to repay debt after the operating cost. 122 That is why I believe many parties, including the leader of Liverpool City Council, Mike Storey, are opposed to this Bill. That is also why I believe that this Bill should not pass.
§ Lord Smith of Leigh
My Lords, the noble Lord has left me two minutes before the estimated rising time of the House in which to reply to his suggestion that this Bill should not pass. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that this Bill had a very adequate Second Reading. It was considered by a Select Committee which was unanimous in its recommendations that, other than the undertakings which were freely given, the Bill should go forward in this House unamended. We have had a long debate this evening and a number of amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, all of which, after considerable debate, he decided to withdraw. If he did not think the Bill was adequate in those areas, he had an opportunity to press those amendments, but he chose not to do so.
§ I believe that the Bill should be passed. We understand that Merseyside is beginning its renaissance. The regeneration of Merseyside is now happening. If that development is going to take place, it needs a transport system that will allow it to continue. The Bill views the Mersey tunnels not merely as a means of access between the two parts of the city, but as an integral part of the Merseyside transport system. It seeks to try to achieve some modal shift, which will not happen if we do not have the money to invest in public transport in Merseyside. I do not know when my noble friend Lord Harrison used the tunnels, but when travelling in peak hours, he would find that they operate at approximately 95 per cent of capacity. The growth of traffic predicted over the next few years will mean that they become fully congested.
§ We have had an unusually long Third Reading debate. I hope that the House will accept the recommendations of its Select Committee by supporting the Bill and the principles behind it.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill do now pass?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 75; Not-Contents, 65.124
|Division No. 2|
|Acton, L.||Desai, L.|
|Addington, L.||Dholakia, L.|
|Andrews, B.||Dixon, L.|
|Barker, B.||Donoughue, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Drayson, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Dubs, L.|
|Bradshaw, L.||Evans of Parkside, L.|
|Campbell-Savours, L.||Falkner of Margravine, B.|
|Chandos, V.||Farrington of Ribbleton, B.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Faulkner of Worcester, L.|
|Cohen of Pimlico, B.||[Teller]|
|Corbett of Castle Vale, L.||Gale, B.|
|Crawley, B.||Gilbert, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Goodhart, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Gordon of Strathblane, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Grantchester, L.||Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.|
|Greengross, B.||Pendry, L.|
|Grocott, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Hamwee, B.||Rennard, L.|
|Harris of Richmond, B.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Hart of Chilton, L.||Roper, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Rosser, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Sawyer, L.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Shutt of Greetland, L. [Teller]|
|Judd, L.||Simon, V.|
|Layard, L.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Lea of Crondall, L.||Smith of Leigh, L.|
|Livsey of Talgarth, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Macdonald of Tradeston, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|MacKenzie of Culkein, L.||Triesman, L.|
|McNally, L.||Tunnicliffe, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Warwick of Undercliffe, B.|
|Masham of Ilton, B.||Whitaker, B.|
|Massey of Darwen, B.||Whitty, L.|
|Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Morgan, L.||Woolmer of Leeds, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Anelay of St Johns, B.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Chan, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Colwyn, L.|
|Biffen, L.||Cope of Berkeley, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Cuckney, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Denham, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Noakes, B.|
|Dundee, E.||Northbrook, L.|
|Elton, L.||Northesk, E. [Teller]|
|Fookes, B.||Norton of Louth, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Greenway, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Harrison. L.||Patten, L.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Henley, L. [Teller]||Renton, L.|
|Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.||Roberts of Conwy, L.|
|Home, E.||Seccombe, B.|
|Hunt of Wirral, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Jones, L.||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Kalms, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Kimball, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|King of Bridgwater, L.||Stevens of Ludgate, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Tebbit, L.|
|Luke, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Maginnis of Drumglass, L.||Waddington. L.|
|Mancroft. L.||Wakeham, L.|
|Mayhew of Twysden, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Miller of Hendon, B.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Monro of Langholm, L.||Wolfson of Sunningdale, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Bill passed.
§ House adjourned at eleven minutes past ten o'clock.