Provided that recent trends in growth of traffic, toll revenue and expenditure continue, it should be possible to start paying off the accumulated debt within the next 18 months.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a considerable time will elapse between the final construction of the bridge and the beginning of paying off the debt? Would it not be much more sensible, and save time and money, to scrap the tolls and allow traffic to flow freely without the disruption that is caused by their collection?
The hon. Gentleman must remember the agreement that was made between the Government, local authorities and others involved about the basis on which the bridge should be built. That policy has been carried out by successive Governments.
Would my hon. Friend agree that the long delay in making the bridge financially viable is due partly to the Cramond bridge which is used by traffic not going over the Forth Bridge but is charged against the cost of the bridge and has to be recovered from tolls? The Government could help by relieving the road authorities of this burden.
As my hon. Friend knows, this question has been fully considered on a number of occasions. I do not see any reason why the cost of providing bridges should be excluded from being recoverable from the tolls.