Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Promoters of the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill [Lords] may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the Bill in the present Session; and the Petition for the Bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with;
That if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agents for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session;
That as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be deemed to have been read the first time and shall be ordered to be read a second time;
That the Petitions against the Bill presented in the last Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the present Session;
That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the last Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business;
That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words 'under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)' were omitted;
That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the last Session.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
The motion is simple and straightforward. Its purpose is to revive the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill so that it may receive further and detailed consideration in this House. It is not the purpose of tonight's debate to rehearse the principles or the detailed substance of the Bill; the proper time for that is the Second Reading debate and later stages. I do not intend to take up the valuable time of the House in an attempt to discuss the merits of the Bill. I am sure that I should be ruled out of order were I to do so.
The only question raised by this revival motion is whether the Bill should have an opportunity to resume its passage through Parliament, whether its contents are sufficiently important to the city of Southampton to justify the parliamentary and public scrutiny of a Second Reading debate and, should the Bill be given a Second Reading, to justify Committee consideration of petitions on it. The Bill was given lengthy consideration in another place.
The city of Southampton faces a period of rapid growth, resulting in pressures on its transport infrastructure and in unprecedented economic development. The rapid transit project that the city council is promoting by way of this Bill has been judged, after extensive study and consultation, to be the best way of meeting the changing transport needs of Southampton in a period of scarce public resources. On two occasions this judgment has been confirmed by a two-to-one majority on the city council, all parties having been given the opportunity of a free vote.
The city council has had to bring a private Bill before Parliament simply because a rapid transit system of the type proposed counts, in parliamentary terms, as requiring authority for a private Bill, just as railway Bills do. I regard this procedure as thoroughly outmoded, and I welcome Governmemt proposals to change it so that non-parliamentary means may be found to deal with such matters. In any case, we owe it to the city of Southampton to give the matter further consideration.
The scope of the Bill is very specific. It authorises its promoter—the city council—to build a 4·4 km rapid transit system round the city centre. It involves the construction of a largely elevated track or guideway, segregated from all other means of transport, on which would travel electrically powered vehicles running on rubber tyres. The Bill includes power to acquire land by compulsory purchase, within defined limits of deviation of the route; to franchise the system out; to form a company; and to dispose of the system.
Southampton's is not the only Bill proposing a rapid transit or light rail solution to local transport problems to have come before the House. Such ventures are appearing increasingly around the country as transport authorities look for fuel-efficient and cost-efficient ways of addressing modern travel needs and their economic and environmental implications.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I am an East Anglian Member, not a Southampton Member. He may be aware that the city of Cambridge probably has greater transport and traffic problems than Southampton and the rest of the south coast put together. A rapid transit system has been mooted for Cambridge. All sorts of solutions are being put forward. However, the authorities in Cambridgeshire are concerned that there should be complete unanimity of opinion about such a dramatic change. Is there unanimity in Southampton?
I hope that I shall be able, in the Second Reading debate, to deal at length with that point. All that we want at the moment is the revival of the Bill so that it may receive a Second Reading. If there is to be a test of the strength of the opposition to it, no doubt that will take place at later stages. This motion is very specific.
The emergence of stringent environmental criteria for such schemes is a point which I believe is not lost on the Under-Secretary of State for Transport.
I fully agree that this is a procedural motion. However, this is the first chance the House has had to look into some of the imperfections of this system. It is only right that we should be allowed to broaden the debate. Unless the reasons are given, how can we decide whether the Bill should be revived? We cannot just have an empty debate. I suppose that we could simply go home in 30 seconds without discussing this terrible Bill at all.
The hon. Gentleman flatters me. His remarks should have been addressed to the Chair. I did not say that this was a procedural motion; it was you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who said so—and quite rightly. If the hon. Gentleman wants to refer at great length to the merits of the Bill, it is up to him to try. I am sure that you, Sir, will give him guidance as to whether he is in order.
Hon. Members will know of such other projects as the Midland Metro and ones in Manchester, Avon, Sheffield and South Yorkshire. Many more are expected, and the Minister gave notice of these when, on 18 December 1990, he presented evidence to the inquiry of the Select Committee on Transport into light rail systems.
As a member of the Select Committee, I can tell the House that we have not yet published our report. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the number of schemes likely to meet the present requirements is very small? Southampton, at first sight, does not seem to be one of them. Does the hon. Gentleman think that this procedure should go ahead? It is the money of many community charge payers in Southampton that will promote this Bill and, in so doing, push a scheme that is very unlikely to come to fruition.
I look foward to reading the Select Committee's report so that I may compare its criteria with the characteristics of this proposed system. As to whether the legislation should be proceeded with, presumably the House will make its decision tonight.
In his evidence to the Select Committee, the Minister said that another half dozen schemes might be in operation before the end of the century. Successive Transport Ministers in the present Government have welcomed such schemes.
The route proposed in the Bill aims to link the major features of the city and to connect existing public transport facilities—the railway, ferries, the bus station, coach transport facilities and the majority of car parks.
Not for the moment.
Twelve stops are to be provided, including the Pirelli site, Ocean Village, about three quarters of a mile of Associated British Ports land in various stages of development, and the Woolworths site. The scheme that the Bill proposes is intended to ease existing and future traffic congestion in Southampton city centre at a time when the city is poised to shift from a port-based economy to become a major south coast regional centre.
The service will be safe, reliable, quiet, frequent and easily extendable, subject to further authorisation. Some of the content of the Bill is concerned with the provisions for future funding of the scheme. It is a marriage of public initiative and public funding, and the Bill makes specific provision for the system to be franchised out.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have some experience of dealing with private Bills. You, Sir, will recall that when I moved a motion of this sort last year, the Opposition, quite rightly, expected me to give way to enable hon. Members to ask questions on matters about which they were concerned. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should adopt such an attitude, because on that previous occasion the Opposition expected me—
You will have noticed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I gave way on almost every other sentence at the start of my brief speech, but now I want to make a little progress.
The scheme will not be owned by the city council. Southampton made it clear that if money cannot be raised from the private sector, the project will not proceed. However, the council believes that private funding is available, and that in the current financial climate it is the best way to ensure that the city centre gets the extra transport capacity that it needs.
Where was I? The council believes that private funding is the best way of ensuring, in the present financial climate, that the city gets the extra transport capacity that it needs in the shortest possible time scale.
As this is a revival motion, the House should consider what prospect the project has of being successful. I heard that no interest whatsoever has been expressed by private sources in funding the scheme. As the hon. Gentleman emphasised that private funding is the most necessary ingredient, can he say who is prepared to finance the project? All the information that we have suggests that no interest in funding has been expressed by the private sector.
The hon. Gentleman is trying to mislead the House in his attempt to persuade right hon. and hon. Members that the city council has given some form of guarantee that there will be no public sector funding. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) wants to intervene—although I suppose that he cannot intervene in an intervention—
The hon. Member for Bradford, South may be able to make his points later, in a long speech of the kind that he usually makes.
When the city council gave evidence to the Committee on Unopposed Bills in the other place, it refused to agree to a guarantee being written into the Bill that no public funding—either from Southampton community charge payers or any other source—would be used. As a former resident of the city, I may add that the word of Southampton's Labour city council is worthless, in respect of not only this but any other matter.
The scheme will not proceed unless it can be financed from the private sector. The city council is currently in discussions with a large number of companies, which have expressed interest in contributing their money to the next stage of the project.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to intervene, he may find my remarks helpful—but they may worry some of my hon. Friends who are against the Bill. As this is an enabling measure, is it not impossible to detect how interested investors may be in the project until a prospectus is available? That cannot be done until the Bill has progressed. Finance is at the heart of whether or not the enabling motion is passed.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful contribution. He is quite right—and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will observe that I have tried to stay within the rules of order in referring only to the worth of the Bill.
The Bill was deposited in the other place in November 1988 and it received its Second Reading on 13 April 1989. By the time that the Bill was considered by an Opposed Bill Committee between 30 October and 13 November 1989, the number of outstanding petitions was reduced from 16 to five. The city council agreed to accommodate concerns raised by petitioners and the Committee.
The Committee looked at every aspect of the scheme in detail, and its members spent a day in Southampton looking at the route, as well as listening to seven full days of evidence. It considered a very full range of issues, including external and environmental impact, efficacy of easing traffic congestion, the effect on trees, parks and open spaces, details of proposed funding and the benefits and advantages of the chosen Briway system.
Only two small changes were made in Committee—one proposed by the Bill's promoters to safeguard parkland, and the other a small rerouting proposal by the Lords Committee.
Immediately afterwards, Parliament did not agree the carry-over of Bills in the Session beginning in November 1989—so all Bills needing revival were effectively killed. The Leader of the House proposed and right hon. and hon. Members agreed, after consideration, that the Bills could proceed, but would have to start afresh as new Bills. So Southampton's Bill is not unique in losing some months due to procedural disagreements.
No progress was made because Southampton city council could not agree. There has been a terrific amount of interplay, and the Conservative group, aided by the Liberal Democrats, is completely opposed to the Bill. The objections that I have expressed in the House come direct from the city council.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain the motivation for that opposition when he makes his own speech.
The Bill's Second Reading was blocked for the first time on 22 May by Conservative Members, but, subject to this revival, its merits can be properly considered during a Second Reading debate. The democratic argument for further consideration—leaving aside the merits of the proposal—are unanswerable, and the citizens of Southampton would be badly served if the project could not be more closely considered during later stages of the Bill's progress.
At every stage, the project has been the subject of exhaustive consultations with specialists and public opinion in Southampton. The MVA consultancy employed Dr. George Gaskell of the London School of Economics to conduct a public consultation exercise in the summer and autumn of 1988, and the search for the most effective scheme involved an international competition with proposals from 17 companies and consortia drawn from every continent. I was very pleased that the Briway system, which is British, was chosen. Expert and local evidence was called in the House of Lords Committee.
The rapid transit scheme that the Bill proposes is a practical and imaginative attempt to address current and future public transport challenges in a changing city without burdening Southampton's community charge payers or national taxpayers. That is why, in two independent surveys into public opinion in Southampton, 76 per cent. of all householders and 75 per cent. of individuals in a street survey wanted it. That is why it received all-party support in the other place, with only one dissenting voice heard there on Second Reading. That is why Lord Montagu, chairman of English Heritage, introduced the Bill and spoke in its support. That is why the scheme is not opposed by Hampshire county council and the local chamber of commerce, and why the majority of all councillors on Southampton city council twice voted in favour of the scheme.
Hampshire county council takes a completely neutral view. It is neither for nor against the project. One could not hope for the county council to adopt a fairer attitude, given that it is the area's transportation expert.
That is why Hampshire county council is not opposed to the scheme. That seems to me to be a mindless and irrelevant interruption.
That is why the Department of Transport is actively considering the practicalities of introducing the scheme. Most important, that is why no fewer than 20 industrial and commercial concerns—many of which are national household names—are prepared to support the rapid transport scheme commercially. In the face of that support, denying the Bill the chance to progress would not only be undemocratic but would be a disgracefully wasted opportunity for the people who live and work in and travel to and round Southampton city centre.
Having followed the Bill's progress through the parliamentary process, discussed the proposal with people backing it, seen the congestion that the scheme is designed to tackle in the city, and seen and ridden the prototype vehicle for the scheme on its test track in Cranleigh, I am convinced that the matter is of sufficient importance to proceed to a Second Reading debate in the House, and I look forward to the House's assent to this motion.
I should have to say that that would not apply, because I intend to try to prove to the House that this proposed transport system does not convey people from their homes to the shopping centre.
I argue that the fact that they passed this Bill in another place is absolutely no reason why we should. I remind the House that two years ago there was a Hampshire county council Bill to build a Lyndhurst bypass. It was successful in another place and received a Second Reading here, but in Committee hon. Members were very stern in their condemnation of the Bill. They went so far as to suggest —in very parliamentary language—that the promoters of the Bill had been wasting the House's time. Therefore, on this occasion we are entitled to consider the merits of the Bill, because obviously, if it has merits, we should proceed with it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that what is relevant to whether the House continues to allow procedural motions such as this to proceed is consideration of what lies behind the Bill, such as the fact that, at the moment, there are between 50 and 70 schemes for light rail systems, most of which will never be approved by Government? Not only do Bills that have little or no hope of success waste the time of Parliament—surely that is valuable enough—but they also lead to an awful waste of public money.
I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. Also, it is relevant to whether the House passes this motion to consider whether the purpose behind the Bill is to produce the form of light transport that the hon. Member for Norwich, South was talking about—the type of system that I know my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) supports, as I do. That is why I think that some reference to the scheme becomes necessary, if we are to decide whether to assent to this motion. I shall endeavour to show the House that the scheme does not do any of the things that the hon. Member for Norwich, South suggests.
May I refer back to some of the comments by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett)? For some unknown reason, he has a connection with the city of Southampton, although I am not aware of it—but perhaps he will correct me about that later.
The hon. Member said that it was democratic to allow this motion to proceed. However, this is a revival motion for this Session of Parliament. Given that there is plenty of evidence from the city of Southampton that it is very much divided on the matter—there is plenty of evidence that the city does not want it—it would be undemocratic to assent to this revival motion so that the Bill could proceed this Session until there was a proven and clearly drafted case for the need and desire for such a transit system.
My hon. Friend makes a telling point.
I invite the House to consider this project for a would-be rapid transit system—that is the name of the Bill. That very name suggests that the new system will produce enhanced facilities to convey the good citizens of Southampton from one part of the city to another, perhaps to bring them from the suburbs to the shopping centre. However, the system does none of those things.
In documentation with the Bill, the system is referred to as a "people mover". That is a sick joke. It no more moves people in any meaningful or constructive sense than a rollercoaster at a holiday camp. In fact, this scheme is little more than a rather grand rollercoaster. The phrase "people mover" reminds me of old-fashioned Soviet newspeak—it might have been written by George Orwell.
The real problem facing the city of Southampton is the same as that facing many other large towns in this country—the future of their city centres and especially of city centre shopping facilities. In the past, many large stores were located in the centre of cities, which acted as a magnet, and people came from all around to shop there. That is no longer the case, for a number of reasons that we are all aware of.
It is perfectly proper for the city of Southampton to try to counter that, and I shall remind the House of the reasons for it: the movement of population out of inner cities into the surrounding countryside; and the enormous increase in motor car ownership. In the Southampton area, many families have two cars, and quite a number with teenage children have more.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the ways in which the system could operate is in conjunction with park-and-ride facilities? Perhaps I am wrong, but I understand the only way that one could park and ride on this scheme would be if one drove into the centre of Southampton to get on to it.
My hon. Friend is, as always, extremely well informed.
The third reason is the advent of out-of-town shopping centres. To the east of Southampton, developers are in the process of building a large shopping complex which will combine one of Sainsbury's Savacentres and a Marks and Spencer with large parking facilities. The city of Southampton must put its mind to competing with that sort of attraction. The proposals in the Bill, which are very narrowly defined, go nowhere near meeting those challenges. If anyone doubts that, he should read the note circulated by the promoters of the Bill to hon. Members before this debate; it states:
the proposed system is not directly intended to improve transport from outlying areas into the city centre".
Therefore, the system does none of the things that a good modern system—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that, during debates on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, an objection was raised when any hon. Member connected with the Bill spoke to people in the Box at the end of the Chamber. You deprecated it when that was taking place, and you and one of the other Deputy Speakers said how important it was for hon. Members connected with the Bill not to leave the Chamber and go to chat to people in the Box. Will you ensure that that does not happen tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
Hon. Members have mentioned "park and ride", and it has been pointed out that it is necessary to get into Southampton to use the system. I have heard that Southampton's beautiful parks will be used as parking places, which would surely be most—
Order. We cannot deal with such matters in this debate. The motion enables the House, if it chooses, to discuss the matter that the hon. Gentleman is now trying to discuss; but we are currently discussing a procedural matter.
Order. Hon. Members must not seek to raise points of order, or any other points, while I am on my feet. This is a procedural motion which will enable the House to decide whether it wishes to discuss the merits and content of the Bill, and I suggest that we keep to it. No points of order can arise.
As I have said, the Bill deals with none of Southampton's transport problems, and I therefore think that it would be a waste of the House's time to proceed further with it. Let me refer any hon. Member who considers that an irrelevant consideration at this stage to the story of the Hampshire (Lyndhurst Bypass) Bill 1988. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the only possible advantage of the proposed system—it is not even a circular system surrounding the shopping centre; it is a distorted U-bend—is the provision of a "mickey mouse railway" for the kids. I am, of course, entirely sympathetic to the case that could be made for experimentation with some novel form of transport that could bring the majority of Southampton's citizens closer to the city centre, and bring people in from outside.
As my hon. Friend knows, we are debating whether we should take parliamentary time to consider this Bill. Is he aware of the proposal for a light rail transit system linking Fareham with Gosport, and with an underwater, under-harbour link with Portsmouth, which may proceed in due course if parliamentary time is available? The matter is currently being studied, but giving parliamentary time to the Southampton Bill might prevent proper consideration of a much more sensible scheme.
That will interest many hon. Members. Most of us who are here tonight are probably sympathetic to new transport systems, and to the idea that they should be integrated with parking. My real objection to the Bill is that it achieves none of the objectives that we consider desirable, and is taking up parliamentary time for the sake of a scheme that will not secure a common public aim with which many of us sympathise. That is why some of us have called it a mickey mouse scheme. Moreover, it has no tourist advantages—it is only a little U-bend around the middle of Southampton—and is environmentally damaging. One of the glories of Southampton is its old walls, which the scheme would jeopardise.
Hon. Members should consider how far the terms of the Bill correspond with the system that they think will result. We have not been told the names of any of the supposed great private sponsors, but without the money the whole project will collapse, as the hon. Member for Norwich, South conceded. On that ground alone, the Bill is a waste of parliamentary time.
There was great excitement in Southampton city council about a year ago, when Mr. Peter de Savary bought Eastleigh airfield. The press office rushed into print the story that Mr. de Savary might be prepared to link Eastleigh airport with the city centre. That, too, was pie in the sky—and we have been eating a lot of that pie.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not dream of challenging your ruling, but may I draw your attention to the guidance that was issued when we last debated a revival motion—on a Bill that affected my constituency? The Chair ruled that, as the Bill had not been presented to the House for Second Reading, it was in order for "reasonable latitude" to be granted for the background to be explained, and that the Chair could therefore allow
more than the customary flexibility."—[Official Report, 14 January 1991; Vol. 183, c. 672.]
Order. I very much hope that, when the hon. Gentleman said that he would not dream of challenging my ruling, he meant what he said.
I think that the House will agree that, so far, I have allowed the "reasonable latitude" advocated by the occupant of the Chair on that earlier occasion. It is for the Chair to judge how much latitude should be provided and how reasonable it should be, and I think that so far I have been quite reasonable.
Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I think that it is relevant to the motion to ask the promoters for more information about where the money will come from. The hon. Member for Norwich, South made it clear that it would come from the private sector, but I know of no single corporate investor who is proposing to put money into the project. As for the individual Southampton citizen, as far as I am aware no great queue of would-be investors has formed outside the civic offices, as happened in London at the time of the electricity privatisation. I am reminded of the notice in the window of a famous Dublin undertaker, which read: "Funerals arranged—self-drive service".
I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that the Bill makes no constructive contribution to the real problems relating to Southampton's city centre and its local businesses. It is about as helpful as throwing a drowning man both ends of a rope. I do not think that we should waste the House's time any further, and I very much hope that the motion will not be passed tonight.
As the House must be well aware by now, we are debating a revival motion, not a motion for Second Reading. So far, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have shown considerable understanding when hon. Members have strayed a footstep or two into the detail of the Bill. The detail must be considered to some extent, because, if the revival motion is not carried this evening, the Bill will be killed off completely. Our views on both the principle and the detail are therefore relevant to what is essentially a procedural motion.
Let me declare an interest—not a pecuniary interest. My constituency, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), comprises part of the suburbs of Southampton: mine covers the western half of the blue horseshoe that surrounds the city, while his covers the eastern half. My constituents and I are frequent travellers in and out of Southampton, as I have been all my life. Some people go there to work, some to shop and some to visit Southampton's two theatres—and very good they are, too—or its museums and art galleries. Southampton has a great deal to offer, although my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) would be the first to admit that it is probably not the tourist mecca that some others cities represent.
We are trying to make progress with the sporting facilities at Lordshill. I understand that my hon. Friend opposes the scheme, for many reasons. We are short of an ice rink and all other sporting facilities—
On the-pRint made by my hon. Friend the Member for Test, I have taken my lead from democratically elected local representatives—the parish council of Nursling and Rownhams, which would be seriously affected by the planning application to which my hon. Friend referred. We must pay attention to the views of democratically elected local representatives on ice rinks, tennis courts, and the people mover.
Southampton is, par excellence, a transport city and experiments of this nature could appropriately be carried out there. It is Britain's premier gateway to Europe. Moreover, 60,000 people travel into and out of Southampton every day. That represents 120,000 movements into and out of the city each day. That could rise to 200,000 movements when the proposed city centre development goes ahead. I am told that it would be funded completely by private enterprise money and would cost £1 billion. Transport pressures in the city will then increase.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh referred to out-of-town shopping. That raises another interesting point. My constituency suffers from many pressures. There is much pressure to build out-of-town shopping precincts in the vicinity of Romsey, but my constituents hotly resist such development. They would prefer to travel by some means of mass transport system to Southampton, thereby bringing prosperity and jobs to the city, instead of having to tolerate unnecessary development in their own backyard.
If I heard my hon. Friend correctly, the implication is that someone who lives in one of the outer suburbs of Southampton, such as Lordshill, would be able to get on to the rapid transport system and go to the centre of the city. If, however, he looks at the proposals as outlined on the map, he will see that the rapid transport system does not go anywhere near any of the outer parts of the city. It goes round the periphery of the city centre.
If my hon. Friend would contain himself —that is the first and last time that I shall give way to him —he would hear that most of us who live in and around Southampton are subjected to considerable traffic congestion. The city of Southampton is not well endowed with car parks. There are about 15,800 car parking spaces in the city. One of the advantages of the proposed people mover is that additional car parking places for my constituents who want to go into Southampton could be provided on less valuable ground, thereby releasing the ground at present used for car parking for more intensive development.
I should like to be able to park my car in a convenient car park and then get on to the people mover to go around Southampton. I do not enjoy walking round the city on a wet day. As Southampton is in the south of England, hon. Members with constituencies elsewhere might presume that it is a lovely, dry and sunny place throughout the year. It is not. According to the Meteorological Office, in the past 10 years, Southampton had on average 119 wet days out of 365. When one walks from the car into Southampton city centre to shop or to go to work, one needs an umbrella or a raincoat one day in three. It would be much more comfortable if one could get on to a people mover.
I shall come to that point in a minute. There is congestion on the roads when one drives in and out of Southampton, but we are dealing in this motion with traffic congestion in Southampton because it does not have a people mover. Southampton would be an excellent place for a rapid transit system—or what has been referred to in the debate as a people mover. They are becoming popular elsewhere in the world. I have a list of the cities that enjoy such a facility.
If my hon. Friend wants to improve public transport from his constituency to Southampton, he should work with British Rail and the county council so that the system is sited over the existing railway line. He might then achieve his aim. This, however, is just a mickey mouse scheme in the middle of Southampton.
This is the third time that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) has referred to the proposal as a mickey mouse scheme. I submit that that is unfair to mickey mouse. Disneyland has just such a system. It works extremely well because it is designed exactly to meet the needs and shape of Disneyland, whereas this scheme is not designed to meet the needs and shape of Southampton city centre.
I trust that in cities such as Jacksonville, Miami, Bordeaux, Sydney, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Orly, Taipeh and Chicago private Bills were not required for either the municipality or free enterprise to construct the people mover systems that those cities now enjoy. A people mover was constructed in Lille in 1983. Admittedly, it was a small, mickey mouse system to begin with, but it was so popular that it was extended three times and has now carried over 130 million passengers in total.
Perhaps in Lille and the other cities that the hon. Gentleman mentioned they did not have mickey mouse politicians similar to the right-wing bunch of school boys sitting alongside him while he makes a serious attempt properly to debate the motion.
I have been going to Strasbourg for a considerable time and I have never noticed a railway on concrete lines going through the city. The only little railway there is for tourists. It is shaped like a Noddy train and pulls about four coaches. Is that the railway to which my hon. Friend is referring?
I have not had the advantage of going to Strasbourg to see the railway, but I will go now and have a look at it. I have not been to the cities that I mentioned, but perhaps my hon. Friend has.
There are three options facing Southampton. First, it can do nothing about its traffic congestion. Secondly, it could, given a fair wind, as it is trying to do, secure the passing of the revival motion so that it can introduce a light rail system at ground level, which would conflict with existing traffic and cause even greater problems. Thirdly, it could have a so-called people mover such as that recommended in the Bill. It would be electronically powered and automatic with unmanned vehicles. It would probably run on rubber wheels and it would be on a segregated guideway, which would mean that there would be no waiting. It would probably have great passenger appeal. I would certainly use it. It would not conflict with any of the existing roadways and would not add to congestion or exacerbate existing traffic problems. It would have to be either under ground or above ground. The proposed system is above ground level. That view was
shared by Her Majesty's Government, when, in April 1989 —the House has been at this for a long time—Lord Brabazon of Tara said:
This is one of a number of private Bills providing for new light transport systems in our major cities. Potentially these systems have many advantages: for example, where segregated from other vehicles, they achieve faster speeds than buses; they also have the flexibility to cope with gradients and curves beyond the capacity of conventional railways."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 April 1989; Vol. 506, c. 463.]
He also said that the Government had no objection o the Bill and that he hoped that the other place would give it a Second Reading, which it did.
If a magic wand could be waved, I should like to see a people mover operating in Southampton. I would certainly use it. Surely it is up to Southampton and its elected representatives to decide. It is not for us to dictate to Southampton on such a matter.
What weight would my hon. Friend give to the elected Members of Parliament from Southampton, both of whom are against the scheme? Should weight be given to the Conservatives on the council who, as I understand it, are equally opposed to the scheme? Should weight be given to some 86 per cent. of the population of Southampton who took part in a wide survey of 3,000 to 4,000 people?
That is a weighty question. I hesitate to draw a comparison between hon. Members elected to this House and councillors elected to the city council when it comes to weighing up the relative power of their opinion and the value of their judgment. We are debating this matter in this House and, therefore, we must give priority to the opinions of the elected representatives from Southampton in the Chamber—my hon. Friends the Members for Test and for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). My hon. Friend the Member for Itchen is a Minister, so will be unable to speak, but I believe that he shares the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Test.
As one would expect, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh has put far more eloquently the point that I was trying to make. Members of Parliament are sent to this place to use their judgment and that is precisely what we shall be doing after having heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Test because it is his judgment to which we shall listen most carefully. The importance of listening to elected representatives from Southampton is that they will have to live with the people mover if it is constructed and they represent those who may have to pay for it if it is not viable. So, the principal question that we must consider is whether the people mover will be viable and, if not, in discussing this procedural motion, are we saying that the people of Southampton will have to pay for it instead?
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh hinted that he was in favour of the principle but not necessarily in favour of this scheme. I accept that and I shall now deal with some of the interventions by my hon. Friends. I have distinct reservations. The failure of the scheme to connect directly with the suburbs is of paramount importance because it means that my constituents in Romsey could not get straight on to it to come into Southampton, bat would have to clog up the roads to get there. There are problems in the Waterside part of my constituency where the A326 is a well-known death trap. It is congested at Totton going into Southampton over what is known as the red bridge. If the people mover connected directly with the Waterside part of my constituency either by a bridge or a tunnel under Southampton water, I should be the first to vote for the revival motion. As some of my hon. Friends have said, it is no use producing a mickey mouse system that just goes round the centre of the city. It has to connect with the infrastructure.
I have been listening to the debate with keen interest because we talk about such matters in Cambridgeshire, which has similar problems that may come before the House. I have listened to my hon. Friends' criticisms of the Bill and for the past hour we have been listening to criticisms from hon. Members who know a great deal more about this than I do. We are being asked to provide for the revival of the Bill so that it can have a Second Reading. In view of all the Bill's obvious defects and the opposition to it, would it not be more sensible to refuse to allow the Bill to be revived so that the promoters and everybody else can take on board all the points that have been made, together with the criticisms of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and the criticisms about the mickey mouse nature of the scheme, and come back, if necessary, with a much more sensible scheme? Therefore, is it not logical for the House to refuse to allow the Bill to be revived?
My hon. Friend has really made his speech. His is a sensible proposal and I am sure that hon. Members will take it on board.
My other criticism of the system as proposed in the Bill is the failure to complete the so-called loop. Originally it was a loop and that seemed to make sense, but now it is a horseshoe because one section has been removed. I am told that the loop could be completed later.
I understand that, but I do not want to debate the detail of the route too much as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would have to call me to order.
Many points have been made about funding. Of all my reservations, the one about funding is the most important. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh asked where the money is coming from. Southampton city council issued a press statement on 2 February 1989, in which it said:
The Council has resolved that all the money needed to build and operate the people mover must come from the private sector, whose benefit would exceed its contribution. The people mover is forecast to generate operating profit as a business in its own right.
That sounded very good two years ago, but in a statement which hon. Members will have received in advance of the debate, the promoters say:
Although the City Council have initiated the scheme for rapid transit, it is intended that the system should be financed almost entirely by contributions from developers and from other sources in the private sector.
The council is not quite so bullish as it was two years ago, which begins to sow seeds of doubt in my mind about financial viability. In its circular to hon. Members, it
anticipated the question whether developers in Southampton would provide some of the funds. It answered that simply by saying:
Developers have publicly expressed support for the scheme, and indicated a willingness to make a financial contribution; consultants' calculations suggest that there are substantial, real commercial benefits to be gained from the People Mover; firm commitments from developers can only be obtained at a later stage.
There is the rub. By "later stage", they mean that, when developers have a prospectus before them from which they can judge the detailed merits of the people mover and its financial viability, they can make a judgment. I have a list showing 20 of the so-called financial supporters—big businesses in Southampton—which would be prepared, we are told, to put up money: Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Ocean Village Ltd., Associated British Ports, a major land owner in the dock area of the city, Southern Electric, Imry Holdings Ltd, the Pentagon—I am not sure what that is, but I am sure that it is not the one about which we hear so much in the news—Drawlane Transport Group, Southampton Citybus and British Rail, all of which are big transport operators, Tarmac Construction, Mowlem, Fairclough Civil Engineering Ltd., Bovis, P. Trant Ltd., Southampton city council, Briway Transit Systems, Brown and Root Vickers Ltd., and Von Roll Transport System Ltd. They will not know whether to invest until they see a prospectus, which they will not see unless the Bill completes its passage through Parliament.
We should consider whether a revival motion could be influenced by our opinion of Southampton city council's preferred mass transit system. It has selected the Briway Transit system following international competition against the major suppliers of transit systems. It selected Briway because, first, it employs modern and proven technology; secondly, it fulfilled the tender specification in every respect; thirdly, its performance was greatly superior to other transit systems in terms of quietness, speed, gradient climbing and ability to negotiate six-metre radius turns smoothly and comfortably; fourthly, it was competitive in price, and viable to operate with low fares, which is very important; fifthly, it was environmentally friendly and energy efficient; sixthly, it would be built with the minimum of disturbance and noise; and, finally, it was demonstrated to be a system capable of great flexibility in its applications and one which could be easily extended to serve suburban communities. As a Member of Parliament who represents one of the suburbs of Southampton, I particularly like that latter reason. The council might have added that it is British—another good reason for selecting Briway. That has all given Briway the stamp of approval, which is helping it to win valuable export orders in Australia, Malaysia, Korea and Taiwan. It is something for a British company to beat the Koreans and Taiwanese at their own game.
Briway is being evaluated by three major airports in the United Kingdom as well as in Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, Stoke-on-Trent and Kent. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) and my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) and for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), as Transport Ministers, have been greatly impressed by demonstrations of the Briway system at the designer's test track.
If that stamp of approval for Briway were not enough, I can report that Birmingham Centro, the corporate name of the West Midlands passenger transport executive, has just heard from the Department of Transport that it has singled out Briway as the benchmark against which other systems are being evaluated for the Midland metro. That is a tribute to Mr. Alan Bristow, the owner of Briway, and to his designers and engineers, who have a world-beater in an increasingly competitive market.
I should like to make it perfectly clear that at no time has anyone said that the system is not capable of doing the job. We have said that the elevated track, close to the medieval walls of the city, is environmentally gruesome. I am going to see the chairman of Briway in about two weeks' time to reassure him that his train was not criticised and that if there is a sensible transport scheme for the city of Southampton his company could be one of the forerunners.
I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend say that; it may influence the way in which I vote. I am delighted to know that he is going to see the Briway system. I have seen it, as have many other city councillors who are interested in the project.
It is probably true that if a canvass survey were carried out to which people responded realistically, more people would be in favour of a mass transit system in the middle of Southampton than against it. That would also be true if one took in people from outside the city of Southampton, who would be able, like me, to enjoy the system without the risk of having to carry the can of paying for it in due course were it not a financial success.
I have concluded that Southampton city council has produced, in essence, a good scheme, although there is no doubt that it is capable of improvement. The council has selected, as my hon. Friend the Member for Test said, the right system in choosing Briway as the mass transit system. Whether in today's economic climate the system should proceed is debatable. The revival motion provides for that.
I shall listen carefully to what hon. Members have to say and especially to what my hon. Friend the Member for Test says. He is the hon. Member who is most closely affected, so I shall listen to him before I decide how to vote.
It may be helpful if I intervene briefly to explain the Government's position. Clearly, there has been great interest in the Bill among Conservative Members. The system is undoubtedly controversial within the Southampton area, but it is not for me to comment. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) feels strongly. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is following the issue very closely but, obviously, he cannot take part in the debate.
I reiterate that the Government's position is strictly neutral. We are grateful to the Chairman of Ways and Means for tabling the motion so that the House can reach a decision. However, it is for the House to decide; it is not for the Government to have a view or to take a line, and the Government will follow their usual practice in these matters.
The debate has been interesting so far, if only because of the presence of some Conservative Members who have been attracted to it. I understand that there are opposing views about the proposal in Southampton and elsewhere in that part of the world. The procedural motion will enable those views to be heard and it will also enable the petitioners against the Bill to put their case before the House. A few minutes ago, there was discussion about the proper role of Members of Parliament in private Bill procedure. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) agrees, at least for the moment. A number of hon. Members with no pecuniary or constituency interest in the scheme will hear the views of the petitioners and recommend accordingly. Although there are many unsatisfactory aspects to the private Bill procedure, private Bill Committees have worked well over the years. Most petitioners have pronounced themselves reasonably happy with the conduct of the Committees and with the way in which their objections have been heard and, on some occasions, resolved. It would seem from what we have heard so far—especially from some Conservative Members—that there is no pleasing some hon. Members. I will not comment yet on the position of the hon. Member for Test whose speech we eagerly await.
When I saw some of the characters who had been attracted to the debate, I knew that we were in for an eventful, if not an informative, evening. I was interested in the views of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). I know that he participates eagerly in these debates. He expressed the view strongly that it was not for my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), who introduced the Bill with his customary ability, to take instructions from third parties. My hon. Friend consulted a third party whom we do not recognise in this Chamber, after he had made his speech. I only wish that some Conservative Members had done the same in the course of similar legislation.
I will give way in a moment. I have not finished with the hon. Gentleman yet; in fact I have barely started. I will give way at the appropriate time.
I was interested to hear that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes felt that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South was taking instructions from someone else. The Bill has, after all, been supported by democratically elected members of Southampton city council. I seem to remember that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes gave slavish devotion to the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill which was opposed by democratically elected councillors and which was supported only by the paid directors of a trust port. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect that Opposition Members at least are more impressed by the views of democratically elected councillors of whichever party than by the views of paid directors of a particular trust port. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue that aspect of his previous argument. In my view and in that of the Labour party, it is perfectly reasonable and honourable for the sponsors of private Bills such as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South to conduct themselves in that way.
When the democratically elected councillors of Glanford, of Cleethorpes and of Humberside voted in favour of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, why did the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends not accept the democratic view?
I raised the point about the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) consulting persons outside the Chamber because, when I was in the hon. Gentleman's position, many Opposition Members made great play of the fact that I was doing what the hon. Gentleman has done. I am merely trying to suggest that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) should bear in mind all the actions that he and his hon. Friends took when I was in the position of the hon. Member for Norwich, South.
Order. I hope that, in responding, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will remember that we are dealing with the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill and with its revival motion.
Those matters will be uppermost in my mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I was talking about the promoters of the Bill. In this case, the promoter is the democratically elected local authority. In the case of the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill, the promoters were the paid directors of the trust port to whom the hon. Member for Brigg arid Cleethorpes gave slavish support in the course of the legislation.
In response to the hyperthyroid intervention from the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), let me say that my hon. Friend may be interested to know that I spoke to people—who do not exist in the eyes of the House—after my speech simply to point out that the opposition to the Bill was lengthy and eccentric, so they might be here for some hours yet.
I do not want my hon. Friend to think that I am being rude. I should have thought that that conclusion might have been drawn by the people who do not exist when they saw some of the hon. Members who had been attracted to the debate.
The basic objections to the Bill appear to be politically based. As the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has pointed out, Southampton, like many similar towns—
Let me continue and then I will think about it. The hon. Gentleman has intervened six times, but he has not shed much light on our proceedings despite the thousands of words that he has expended during those interventions. I might give way to the hon. Gentleman in the next few minutes if he is nice to me, but at the moment I am dealing with the eloquent speech made by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside, who pointed out that, like other similar towns and cities throughout the country, Southampton has a severe traffic problem—[Interruption.] I should have thought that even the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes—non-stop sedentary chatterbox that he is—would appreciate that the citizens of Southampton are concerned about traffic congestion, and that that is why their elected representatives have proposed a scheme which they hope will help to alleviate some of that congestion.
Again from a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman points out that it will not. It would be difficult, under our archaic procedures, for local authorities to propose a scheme overnight involving the digging up or laying of tracks in every single suburb in every city centre in the country. One has to start somewhere. I shall not linger for too long on the details of the Bill, but I understand that it would facilitate the start of a scheme which the city council hopes will eventually contribute substantially to the alleviation of traffic congestion in the city. It appears to me that that is a worthy objective, and it ought to be given due consideration under the procedures of the House.
It is clear that if a people mover were constructed in Southampton, it would have a considerable environmental impact on the city. In such cases, it is open to city councils to apply to the Department of Transport for a section 56 grant. On this occasion, the Minister was up and down like a Jack-in-the-box; there was no time to intervene in his speech. Perhaps, therefore, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) would like to ask the Minister—in the hope that we shall get an answer—whether Southampton has applied for a grant or intends to do so and whether it would qualify for such help from taxpayers' money as well as community charge payers' money.
Two matters directly arise from the hon. Gentleman's intervention. First, I could not put such a question as eloquently as him. Secondly, knowing the Minister as I do, I very much doubt whether we would get a straight answer to that question. I fear that if we got a straight answer, and if it were anything other than no, the Minister might be an ex-Minister first thing tomorrow morning. No hon. Member on either side of the House would want that even if Labour wants them all out come the next general election.
Let me clarify the matter. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) did not have time to intervene in my speech. I usually try to keep my remarks short on these occasions, as I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak.
I understand that Southampton city council had originally hoped to finance the project entirely through contributions from developers and others but that it has now concluded that there will be a need for a public sector contribution, including a section 56 grant. However, no application for a section 56 grant has yet been made, or received.
The hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside refers to taxpayers' money in the sort of tone that Mary Whitehouse might use when referring to certain television programmes. It seems that our fleeting moment of agreement is at an end. Whether in Southampton or in any other city, it would be fairly difficult to financee a people mover or any sort of public transport scheme without any public money. It would be fairly difficult to find a city anywhere in the world where some public money had not been spent on transport. It is entirely to the credit of Southampton city council that, in embarking on the project, it has tried to attract private finance. Should the motion be approved, we shall be able to hear in detail what the council has done, what it expects to do and how much interest has been generated. If, on the other hand, the motion is defeated because of the ideological objections of the far right of the Conservative party, we shall never have the opportunity to hear about that, even though a considerable amount of public money will have been spent on taking the Bill through the other place and preparing it for its passage through this House.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not thinking of me when he referred to the far right. Let me come to the aid of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). It was a little unfair of the hon. Gentleman to chastise my hon. Friend and to say that he was inconsistent. The recent exchange between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) concerning the possibility of taxpayers' money being put into the system supports my argument. One cannot compare support for a trust port scheme with support for a local authority scheme. The trust port scheme that my hon. Friend supported was not going to make any demands on the public purse.
In this case, however, we have a city council—albeit democratically-elected—which wants to do something which will make demands on the public purse in such a way as to involve central Government finance. Perhaps, therefore, it would be right to take note not just of what the democratically-elected council says but of what the two local democratically-elected parliamentarians say, which is that we are talking about public finance, including taxpayers' money. That is an important point. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is absolutely right and is being entirely consistent.
I was reluctant to give way to the hon. Gentleman, and no doubt you can see why, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman's intervention was interminably long and predictably inaccurate. The Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill will involve public money because the busier the port becomes—[Interruption]. The Minister ought to listen to this because he is looking bewildered. The busier the port becomes, the more the public sector will be called upon to improve road links to the port because it will be said that heavy traffic is passing too close to people's homes. With the Department as it is, that is presumably exactly what will happen. The Minister can usually find money for road developments but not for public transport.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will note that a substantial amount of public money has been going into various light rail schemes which have met the criteria for section 56 grants. Those schemes include a large development under way in Manchester. My hon. Friends gave permission for the Sheffield scheme to go forward and we are currently evaluating the Centro scheme.
Strictly speaking, the Centro scheme has nothing to do with the motion before us, but I have a deep personal interest in it because it passes through my constituency. I noted from the Minister's comments a week or so ago that he has managed to find money for a roads package around Birmingham, even though he is still evaluating the public transport advantages that wall be provided by the Midland metro.
Let me return to the motion. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Test is no longer in his place. I said earlier that I intended to refer to him. I understand his basic objection to the proposal, which is a political objection. In his view, the fact that Labour-controlled Southampton city council has made the proposal is good enough reason to oppose it. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said so far will lead me to any other conclusion, although there are other reasons that we might consider. It is apparent, for example, that the hon. Gentleman is not the sort of man who would ride round the city centre on the people mover. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman prefers a good brisk walk on his way to the gymnasium or the squash court. All credit to him for that; it shows in his remarkable physical appearance. But the other citizens of Southampton may not be quite as fit and athletic as the hon. Gentleman, and they may want a people mover. The fact is that we do not know, and tonight is not the occasion on which to find out. Given the amount of public money involved, it would seem eminently sensible—
I shall certainly not give way to the hon. Gentleman again as I do not have another 15 minutes to spare. His hon. Friend the Member for Test ought to be here if he has a point to make. Although the two hon. Gentleman are very similar physically and spend a lot of time playing squash or whatever they do together, we had better wait for the hon. Member for Test to make the point.
It will be short and not sensible. The hon. Gentleman is implying that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) is not very fit and that therefore he will not be able to gain access to this system because it is elevated and he will not be able to climb the many flights of stairs that he would have to climb to get into the carriages.
For once there is a grain of truth in something the hon. Gentleman says. It seems to me that the scheme has even greater merit now because in no time at all the hon. Member for Test will be even fitter than his hon. Friend. That is another argument in favour of the scheme. For all of us who have listened to the hon. Member for Test over the years, the idea of being guaranteed his presence and common sense for many more years is appealing.
The hon. Member for Thurrock and some of his hon. Friends make great play with their concern about public money. I remind them that preparing such legislation is not cheap. Our learned friends do not work for a guinea a word any more. I understand that the price has gone up considerably. I understand, further, that the costs that the poll tax payers of Southampton have inevitably incurred, as would happen in the case of any other legislation to do with public transport, already amount to around three quarters of a million pounds.
This means that the debates about the merits of this scheme and the objections to it ought to be fully heard. That investment, which has been made to bring improved public transport to the crowded and congested city of Southampton, should receive a fair hearing in this place through the procedures that I outlined earlier. I hope, therefore, that the House will give this proposal the go-ahead this evening and that we can see in detail what is proposed and what are the objections. To defeat the Bill at this stage would not only indicate the right-wing bias and ideology of certain Tory Members present this evening; it would also be extremely expensive for the poll tax payers of Southampton—a fact of which I and my hon. Friends will remind them in the time up to and including the next general election.
The Chair has already said that in discussions of this kind it allows a certain latitude with regard to what might otherwise be an extremely narrow point. I rise purely to be of assistance to the Chair in that I do not want to talk about the merits of the Bill at all; I want to talk about the motion. I do so for a very serious reason. It is not only that I happen to represent a south coast constituency where we are interested in moving people conveniently and quickly and therefore interested in the ways other people may find to deal with this problem; it is that some years ago I was a member of the Committee which considered the Ginns and Guttridge (Crematorium) Bill. I am sure that all hon. Members in this crowded House are fully aware of the details of that Bill and I will not rehearse them this evening. But I remind the House that that was the longest private Bill Committee this century. Not only did it have to have revival motions but it ran over from one Parliament to the next. A general election intervened and the Bill had to be brought back again.
The point is that in the end, when the Bill came back from the Committee, on which we had worked literally for years, it was defeated in the House. The Bill—for the sake of hon. Members who were not then in the House, although I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remember it—concerned a proposal for the building of a crematorium in the city of Leicester. The discussion was about whether it was a suitable site, whether the technology was correct, whether the traffic arrangements were right, and so on.
It was a tragedy that the system of working through a private Bill and the procedures of the House on that occasion provided absolutely no protection to a moderately sized company which needed to promote a Bill of this nature. Although a carry-over motion contains within its terms a provision that there shall not be renewed fees because the Bill is being renewed, that does not mean that the costs to the promoters cease. The costs of legal advice and of counsel continue.
It was said earlier this evening that the members of the legal profession were probably not unduly concerned that our debate might take three hours as opposed to one. I am quite sure that there was no great objection to the fact that the Bill to which I referred took three years.
I just want to give my hon. Friend some information that supports his point. I quote from an article in the Sunday Evening Echo written by the local government correspondent, Kate Thompson, which says:
A secret memo written by project manager Steve Keys"—
who I think is somebody connected with the company that has been set up to further the cause of this project—
reveals that a further £176,000 will have to be pumped into the project if more parliamentary time is won tonight.
So if one shares the concern of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) about waste of community charge payers' money, it would be a very good thing not to allow the motion to go through tonight.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because that is the danger. If the Bill is likely to succeed, there is every reason for us to give it a fair wind, particularly if we have no direct, immediate interest in its provisions. If there is a scheme for the improvement of transport in the great city of Southampton, the citizens of the even greater city of Portsmouth will wish it well, but all the evidence is that this is a highly controversial proposal and I am sure that hon. Gentlemen, including the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), who spoke to the motion, would agree that there is no evidence of broad unanimity in the city of Southampton. All that we have to do is convince the House that what the people of Southampton want is right.
I will rephrase what I said. I am trying very hard not to be politically controversial. I want to talk about the practicalities. It is true that the majority of Southampton city council has given approval to this scheme, but it is perfectly reasonable to say that something of this nature should not be based on a single political party. Three major political parties are represented on Southampton city council and I should have thought that something based on one party would fall within the definition of being politically controversial.
It is a very interesting constitutional theory that it is unfair to put legislation through if it is supported by only one party. That is not really a doctrine, I should have thought, for which the previous Prime Minister would have had any time. However, I will turn to the more realistic parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech. None of us knows whether the Bill deserves the wide support which the hon. Gentleman is urging. If the motion is agreed, we shall find out. It will then be for the House to approve or reject it after it has been considered in Committee and we have seen how detailed the support and opposition are and the grounds for both. Would not that be a more sensible way of proceeding?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I do not agree with the conclusion that, although the Bill may have majority support in Southampton city council, it is perfectly legitimate for the council to claim that that is what it wants. Hon. Members do not have to say that, because a majority on Southampton city council wants the Bill, we must rubber-stamp it. Our job is to protect the broad interests not of Southampton city council but of the people of Southampton and all those who would say that the House must give its approval. The House is not being asked to rubber-stamp something that has been decided in Southampton; it is being asked to say that the measure should be agreed.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), I am not as opposed to the scheme as some of our colleagues are. However, based on my experience, I believe that we should not incur further expenditure at every stage of a Bill which probably will not receive the support of the House or be put into operation, thereby leaving the costs to be borne by the promoters.
In the case of the Ginns and Guttridge (Crematorium) Bill, one of the tragedies was that a relatively modest company put forward the proposal. The procedures of the House were allowed to continue. It was not the company's fault that it took years, but there were enormous costs. However, it was a commercial business. It went into the matter with its eyes open. It decided to put its own money forward, and it lost. This is a different situation. We are talking not about whether those who put money into the scheme for the so-called people mover will receive profits. That is definitely not a matter for discussion tonight; it is a matter for Second Reading. However, it is clear that the longer the Bill is allowed to run the greater will be the burden to be borne by the community charge payers of the city of Southampton. Members of Parliament are entitled to consider whether a proposal from a political party in a certain city should merit the support of the House when it will involve costs on people who clearly do not unanimously support that proposal.
The House would probably be willing to support a proposal for a tramway or a rapid transit system to alleviate the problems of people who wish to reach the city of Southampton and then go to their ultimate destinations. Such a scheme would have broad support across the political spectrum. I should be more impressed if some members of each party on the council were strongly in favour and some were opposed than if a scheme appeared to have only one-party support.
On the council. Therefore, it would be even more difficult to raise the money necessary for the scheme to proceed and to make the Southampton community charge payers' investment worth while.
I am told that £0·75 million has already been spent and I am sure that not all the final bills are in. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) pointed out that a document, the authenticity of which I am not aware, refers to a sizeable tranche of public funds that are already committed. We are talking about large expenditure. There comes a point at which we should say, "Unless we are sure that the scheme will be practical, we should say no." That is our responsibility—it is not to decide whether we want a horseshoe-shaped, circular or elevated scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) has strong feelings on those points. However, with respect, they are not what we are deciding. We are deciding whether to encourage the scheme, knowing that it is highly controversial, has unbalanced political support and may never come to fruition. The scheme has fulfilled a valuable purpose. It has provided an opportunity to discuss a rapid transit scheme in Southampton. Much of the preliminary work will be borne in mind elsewhere and people will consider what has happened.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. It is a little contradictory to talk about how much money has been spent on the Bill and then to say that there has been a valuable discussion. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. It would be expensive if we abandoned the scheme now. We would have had better value for money, to use the phraseology of the Conservative party, if we had used the ten-minute Bill procedure. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Bill began in the House of Lords, which is one reason why it has come to us so late as to need a carry-over motion.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I trust that I did not suggest that the expenditure that has been incurred has been wasteful. I am sure that I did not use that term, and I did not intend to imply it. I suggested that that is the amount that has been spent. We should always take advantage of what has been obtained from such expenditure. Work has been done surveying the route and on the examination of technical problems, and it could be adopted elsewhere. However, expenditure is not an argument for adopting the scheme. There comes a time when it is sensible to say, "Enough is enough. We went down the wrong route to start with." It is better to stop and use what can be learnt from mistakes and then to find a scheme that has broad support. An alternative scheme with broad support would cost less because of the work that has been done.
Hon. Members would be wise to reject the proposal and say that we are concerned not with the merits of the scheme but with the reputation of the House for encouraging a project that is likely to prove expensive and not come to fruition.
I sat through the Committee which considered perhaps the worst example that is possible. Since then I have consistently come to the House to support private Bills. I have supported carry-over motions and done my best to facilitate private Bills because I realise the risk and cost that promoters face. I have given my support because of my experience. But at the back of my mind I recognise that if only at an earlier stage someone had made it clear to Messrs. Ginns and Guttridge that their Bill would not go through the House after it returned from Committee because a solid block of people was determined that there would not be a crematorium on that site, a great deal of money and a great deal of the time of the House would have been saved. That would have improved the reputation of the House.
Tonight we have an opportunity to show that the House is a valuable safeguard for those who wish to make proposals which involve expenditure of public funds and which, although they may be good ideas, are badly thought out and presented. I hope that the House will reject the motion.
You may be intrigued, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a Member from Essex takes such a close interest in a revival motion which relates to the fine city of Southampton. If I may take a few seconds to explain, I was a resident of the city for almost six years. For a brief period I served on the city council. For those six years, I was a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill). I take this opportunity to send my best wishes and regards through my hon. Friend to all my friends in Southampton, especially those in the opposition group on the city council and the many people in the Conservative party with whom I worked so closely and successfully for so long. I am sure that my hon. Friend will pass on those regards.
I am willing to give way to the hon. Gentleman, as he so graciously did to me, if he wishes to make any point about what I am saying.
In addition to the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), it is important to stress that we are discussing not merely a revival motion but a revival motion for this Session. The whole crux of the debate is whether the House should see fit to revive a motion on a Bill which seeks to do something which will have a major, but not necessarily in any way positive, effect on the city of Southampton when it is clear that the overall feeling of the people of Southampton, expressed through different avenues—city councillors, county concillors and Members of Parliament—amounts to a democratic deficit, through whatever conduit one looks at the matter. There is clearly no proven democratic surplus in favour of the Bill coming back to the House.
On that basis, we should consider whether we wish to revive this motion when there is nowhere near unanimity in the city about the scheme. The Bill is specific. It would implement a specific rapid transit system in Southampton. As there is a wide range of views about the merits of the proposal in Southampton, it is worth spending some time on examining the reasons that lie behind the lack of unanimity.
I shall give six main reasons why there is so much discussion in Southampton, and no consensus, about whether the Bill should be revived. But there is one general reason. Two of my hon. Friends—one of whom is about to leave the Chamber and may wish to stay while I refer fleetingly to what he said—mentioned cities which are going ahead with or already have rapid transit systems.
My hon. Friend the Minister cited Birmingham, Manchester and Sheffield—all British cities. Manchester and Sheffield are at least twice the size of Southampton, and Birmingham is between five and six times the size of Southampton. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) mentioned several cities. When I lived in Southampton, I lived not far from his constituency. I was only just a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Test. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside mentioned Toulouse, which is the third or fourth biggest city in France, with a population of well over half a million. He mentioned one or two other cities, and there was some debate about how accurate and detailed his knowledge of them was. Lille is considerably larger than Southampton.
The pertinent points about the two sets of examples given by my hon. Friends is that there is often a case for putting in some sort of rapid transit system in a city, irrespective of whether it is entirely privately funded, entirely publicly funded or funded with a mixture of finance. However, a certain concentration of population is necessary to make the scheme realistic.
In terms of population, Southampton is only just a city. I do not mean that disparagingly—I very much enjoyed the six years that I lived there—but its definition as a city or a big town is a borderline case. In conurbations the size of Southampton, a realistic proposal is rarely made for putting in a rapid transit system. In view of that, the proposal for Southampton would not be so bad if the proposed system served most of the city. It seeks to serve only a tiny area. I shall come to that later.
Furthermore, the proposed system does not use existing or old and disused British Rail track. It does not use natural transport corridors within the city. Unlike many other rapid transit systems which are running successfully, the Southampton scheme has not been initiated by the private sector. The whole idea has been initiated by the public sector—the Southampton city council. Those are some general reasons, as a preamble to my remarks, why I do not think it is realistic.
I come back to the reasons which underline the fact that there is a complete lack of unanimity in Southampton. Later I shall give the House some information about how one could construe that there is not in the city a democratic consensus in favour of the Bill being revived. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said, we are talking not just about a procedural matter but about whether we want the Bill to proceed, or whether we wish to extinguish it once and for all. If the House does not agree to revive the motion, we will effectively carry out the wish of the majority of the people in Southampton, who think that the rapid transit system should not proceed. Obviously it will not proceed if the House decides to extinguish this animal so that it does not continue to breathe.
My hon. Friend is on dangerous ground. I do not believe that any comprehensive survey has been done to find out whether people are for or against the proposal. Certainly anecdotal evidence gained from people in my constituency and in Southampton suggests that people are divided, but I think that there is a general feeling in favour.
I had the opportunity to talk to taxi drivers about it. The Southampton taxi consultative council, representing radio taxis, the Southampton Taxi Owners Association and Streamline Taxis, had a general discussion and generally came down in favour of what is proposed. But no quantitative analysis has been done. Even if there had been, I remind my hon. Friend that as an elected representative he is on dangerous ground. I remind him of Edmund Burke's dictum that we are here to use our judgment and that we betray rather than serve the people we represent if we sacrifice it to their opinion.
Of course taxi drivers would be in favour of a rapid transit system, because they would earn a lot of money by taking people from the outskirts of the city to the centre so that they could get on the thing to whirl them round the periphery of the city centre. I am sure that the cab drivers would be licking their lips in anticipation.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I want to answer more fully the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside, who wishes to leave the Chamber. As a former resident of Southampton, I believe that the scheme is laughable. Not only is there no need for it, but its overall effect on the city will be negative in many ways.
As to the proof about whether or not there is clear, democratic consensus and unanimity, let me give my hon. Friend some pieces of evidence which show that there is no unanimity or consensus. A recent telephone survey by a leading newspaper in Southampton, which covered about 4,000 people, had a 60 per cent. response in opposition to the scheme, certainly in the form specified by the proposed legislation.
A petition has also been organised, and already it has 5,000 signatures. My hon. Friend will know, from his experience in the House and in politics generally, that that is a large petition. It is difficult to find people to go out and get signatures. The fact that 5,000 have already been raised is interesting. My hon. Friend may not be aware that a street survey carried out in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) showed that 88 per cent. of those interviewed did not want the scheme.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman about the telephone survey about which he was so keen? Can he tell the House whether the place of residence of those telephoning was established during the survey? Would he care to compare it with the survey carried out by the London School of Economics, which showed an overwhelming majority in favour? Will the hon. Gentleman give us more details about the telephone survey and the notoriously unreliable system of carrying out surveys?
Order. At the risk of tedious repetition from the Chair, I remind the House once more that we are not discussing the merits of the Bill; we are discussing whether the Bill should be revived. I recognise fully that, in discussing that motion, it is necessary to refer to the Bill in order to construct an argument, but it is not in order to go into detail which would be in order on the Second Reading of the Bill, were we to reach it.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that guidance. I may be going into slightly too much detail in order to answer genuine interventions by colleagues.
May I recommend that the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) directs his question to a newspaper called The Reporter, which incorporates the Southampton Guardian? From the name of the newspaper, I presume that most of the people who read it live within the city boundaries of Southampton. The newspaper says that the people who rang up were its readers. I remind the hon. Gentleman that 2,015 did not want the scheme and that only 1,743 did. It was The Reporter, No. 289, of Wednesday, 19 December 1990, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to consult the article. He could also contact the newspaper if he wants further details.
As you rightly say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, surveys showing the number of people for and against the proposal are a matter for Second Reading. But does not my hon. Friend agree that what is relevant to the motion today is the people who will be adversely affected by the project? Is it not right to consider people such as Mr. A. Godsby, whose cafe will be knocked down? There are 18 similar properties in the road in which he lives, and they would all be wiped away. Therefore, does my hon. Friend agree that, although it may not be appropriate to consider whether the majority are in favour of or against the proposal, we should consider those who will have their properties flattened and be put out of business?
My hon. Friend is right. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) referred to additional public expenditure, and there will have to be a considerable number of compulsory purchase orders in order to force people living in a supposedly free society to vacate their properties, whether domestic or commercial, in order to allow this rapid transport system to pass over what was their property.
I am belatedly grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am listening to him with great care, as his arguments are always well marshalled and his cogent thoughts always benefit the House. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) seems to be getting over-excited. To return to Mr. Knox and the cafe owner—
The hon. Gentleman says that with a delightful giggle. I am sure that that is amusing, but if the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) can persuade his hon. Friend to relax for a second or two, perhaps I can have his attention.
These matters are vital. If we accept the motion tonight, the petitioners, who will presumably include those who are to lose their homes, will have every right to put their case before a Committee. But if Southampton city council decided to build a ring road or any other road around the city centre, it could bulldoze as many houses as it liked under the compulsory purchase order procedure without any reference to the House, a Committee stage or any democratic involvement by the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) and for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope). The reform of that procedure is long overdue. It applies only to public transport matters and to railway developments. A road development in the area could have gone ahead without any reference to the House.
I do understand the hon. Gentleman. His west midlands accent is not too strong. I always take note of what he says.
I do not want to take up too much more time, as I want to ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Test will have an opportunity to speak. Also, I am getting quite hungry. However, I have to say that, for six specific reasons, it would be better to reject this revival motion and thereby kill the Bill now. The six reasons—which are also the reasons for the lack of democratic consensus in Southampton—are: the cost, the damaging effects on the environment, public opposition, the damage to the city's fabric, the limitations of the proposed system, and the lack of proven need for the system as devised.
On the question of the provision of public money, we have already had a hint from the Government that taxpayers' money could be involved if the scheme were ever to see the light of day. The city council has consistently refused to write into the Bill a guarantee that public money would not be involved. Of course, local authority public money comes from community charge payers. Socialist councils seem to forget that they do not have any money of their own, that the money they spend belongs to their citizens. Therefore, any fanciful talk about funding such a scheme with money from the private sector, come what may, is, to say the least, misleading.
The route that has been chosen is absolutely useless. It skirts the city centre, connecting a lot of places that in themselves are fairly meaningless. If one looks at a map, one sees that it follows a sort of inner ring road. The job that this rapid transit system would do, at a cost of £40 million—probably £45 million by the time it was actually built—could probably be done by a few minibuses. The amount of money involved would be very much less, and such a system would be far more profitable.
The whole idea is deeply unpopular, but, in that regard, I do not intend to repeat the comments that I made following the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside. There is clear evidence that a large number of people in Southampton are against this system. An elevated track would be disliked by the elderly, the handicapped and mothers with young children in buggies or prams.
The system is opposed by a number of environmental groups in the city—Southampton Commons and Parks Protection Society, the Friends of Old Southampton, the City of Southampton Society, Southampton Conservation and Southampton Environmental Forum. Those bodies certainly want this revival motion blocked. They do not want to see 30-ft concrete pillars around the old part of the city centre, in front of the old city walls. They do not want the negative impact that it would have on the many parks in the city, with the consequent loss of flora and fauna and the undermining of the peace and tranquillity that one can enjoy on a summer Sunday afternoon.
There would be general pollution and increased traffic congestion, with people driving into the city to use the system. Taxi drivers in particular will want to see it there. It would destroy parts of the existing urban fabric, and generally create noise pollution, and damage many parts of the city, including the waterfront and other sensitive and historic areas.
Does it make transport sense? No. As I said earlier, and as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), it would not be integrated with British Rail. Southampton has eight stations. The system would not be integrated with bus or ferry services. Access to it would be mainly by car, so the volume of road traffic would be increased, rather than decreased, despite the fact that a decrease in the amount of traffic is what one normally assumes to be the objective of a rapid transit system.
I come back to the very important question of cost and of who is going to meet it. Already, £0·75 million has been wasted on this absurd monstrosity. As I said earlier, quoting the Southern Evening Echo, a secret memo, about which the city council would not have wanted the public to know, says that a further £176,000 of community charge payers' money would have to be spent if we were simply to allow this revival motion to pass. The construction cost has been estimated at £45 million, and the railway would need to achieve 11 million rides a year to make a profit —that in a city of only 220,000 people. The arithmetic does not add up, and the statistics are laughable.
I explained that the city council refused to give an absolute guarantee, to be written into the Bill, that the system would be totally privately funded. It knows in its heart of hearts that the scheme is not economically viable and could never be profitable, and that it is the poor old community charge payers who would have to pick up the tab for that white—or should I say red?—elephant.
The council's current position of intent is meaningless, unless it is prepared to inscribe it into the Bill. Because of the lack of enthusiasm and absence of unanimity, the system is unlikely to secure the patronage of the 35,000 passengers a day that it would need to be profitable. Southampton is a fine city and a major regional centre, but it has competition from Bournemouth, Portsmouth, and Winchester. Although Southampton has some tourist attractions, it is mainly an industrial city and is not a place that the public necessarily think of as one offering tourist attractions. I welcome the efforts made by the city council when I lived in Southampton, and now, to improve the city's appeal, but it is fanciful to claim that a little train travelling around the city's perimeter will make any difference to the number of tourists.
No developers or major retail stores are committed to the scheme, and it seems unlikely that they ever will be. The project would waste community charge payers' money; it would be silly of the House to agree to a motion concerning a rapid transit system that no one really wants. The city's two Members of Parliament, who are elected by a much bigger turnout of the voters than are Labour city councillors, also oppose it.
The scheme has been conceived by the public sector, and is not the product of an entrepreneurial venture from the private sector. It has sprung from the womb of public empire building, which is typical of Southampton's Labour council. The proposal is unpopular now, and the system would be even more unpopular once the population started living with its environmental effects. The system would be an appalling burden on the people of Southampton. I ask the House to defeat the motion.
You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have had something to do with private legislation over the past five Sessions, since 1986. I appeared before the House on behalf of the promoters of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill with a revival motion on not one, but two occasions. Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will recall the basis on which the Opposition made their case against that legislation—it was on their opposition as a matter of principle to revival motions. How they have stood on their heads tonight.
We heard a different story this time from the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) from when he spoke against the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. Oh what a difference when he appeared before the House to talk about the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill. Oh what a difference when the shadow Leader of the House responded to the revival motion that I moved on that occasion, two and a half years ago. There he stood at the Dispatch Box, denouncing the motion to the House, and asking how a promoter, who had already used up the time of one or other House of Parliament, dare come back to waste the time of the House for yet another Session. Yes, they are the guilty men tonight—with their previous attitude about matters of principle and revival motions.
I heard what the hon. Gentleman muttered under his breath. He said that I had gone round the bend. He is the one who has done a somersault. He is standing on his head. Two years ago during the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, when he was the shadow Leader of the House, he stood at the Dispatch Box and said that, as a matter of principle, the House should never agree to such motions, regardless of whether the Bill had been considered in Committee.
Therefore, I expect to see the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, if not the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), in the Lobby with us tonight. I shall study Hansard closely tomorrow to see whether he has been consistent.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East also participated in the debates on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and used the argument of principle against a revival motion.
I am sorry to upset these flights of fancy —if not oratory—but will the hon. Gentleman consider the argument that I put to him earlier? This Bill is promoted by a democratically elected local authority and has completed all its stages in another place. The Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill was promoted by a board of directors and it had not gone through any procedures in another place. I hope that he will accept that there is a difference between local councils of any, or all, political parties and paid directors. That was the difference that I pointed out to him earlier, and so far he has failed to tackle that argument.
I shall let the hon. Gentleman have his argument. However, I wonder why he voted against the revival motion for the Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill for generating stations in my constituency. I think that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras also voted against it. That Bill could not be promoted by a local authority, but had to he promoted by the electricity companies. That Bill also passed through the House of Lords. During that revival motion I said that we should assent to it because it was the first opportunity for the House to consider the Bill. All those Opposition Members who are normally aficionados of revival motions when I move them, who incidentally seem to have disappeared tonight—I do not know where they have gone—
It is always very pleasant to have a large audience from the Opposition. I get quite used to it. With a bit of luck the Benches will fill up quickly in a moment when hon. Members see my name on the screen.
However, to return to the issue of principle, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East has come up with a novel idea. He says that the House should agree to a revival motion if a Bill is promoted by a local authority because it has some basis in democracy, but not if the Bill is not promoted by a local authority.
In the case of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and the Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill, as local authorities do not run those organisations, they cannot promote them.
Opposition Members have thrown that principle at me in the past few years, and now they should get a taste of their own medicine. For tonight's purposes we should put their argument to the House, and ensure that they have an opportunity to vote on the same basis on which they voted before. We shall see what happens.
As you have rightly said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must not consider the Second Reading of the Bill tonight. What we must consider is the way in which the Bill is being presented. It is normal procedure for the promoters of a private Bill to engage parliamentary agents—in fact, they are required to do so. I make no complaint about that; all parliamentary agents, including those representing the promoters of this Bill, are well-respected and highly regarded organisations.
This Bill, however, has more than parliamentary agents to assist it. One would expect the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) to be in the Chamber, bearing in mind the reprimands that were thrown at me from both sides of the House—and, I believe, from the Chair on one occasion—when I was not in the Chamber during a debate on a private Bill of which I was in charge. But I see that the hon. Gentleman has returned. I hope that the sponsors of this Bill will engage in the sort of behaviour that was expected of me by the House, especially the Opposition. We must ensure that even-handedness and fair play are maintained.
It is, of course, right and proper that a Member of Parliament should also represent the promoters, presenting their case to the House, and the hon. Member for Norwich, South did that. But I wonder what the House would have thought if, when I moved the revival motion for the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, an Opposition Member had held in his hand the plan of campaign drawn up by a public relations outfit explaining how to buy off hon. Members supporting the Southampton rapid transit proposals. I think that there would have been goodness knows what to pay. Opposition Members would have had plenty to say about public relations companies being up to their ears in it, and so forth.
I have news for the House. I have here a document suggesting the best way of securing support in the House, submitted to Southampton city council. It says: "Target Members of Parliament. Target the city's Back Bench MP James Hill." I do not know how you feel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the idea of targeting my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill).
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment: he is mentioned in the document as well. Others, it says, include "Christopher Chope"—my hon. Friend the Minister. And so it goes on, with a litany of other hon. Members who could be nobbled.
The next part of the document deals with how to nobble Ministers and their civil service advisers. It names the relevant Departments as the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry, and suggests that the key political figure is "Mr. Michael Portillo, Minister for Public Transport". I hope that Southampton city council will wonder whether it has received value for money, given the out-of-date advice with which it has been provided.
According to the document, the Transport Department's political adviser, Elizabeth Buchanan, should be approached. And so it goes on. Good heavens! I see that the Minister to whom I am Parliamentary Private Secretary is also mentioned, on the ground that— according to the document—he represents the Department of Trade and Industry. For the past three months, I have been going to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to assist the Minister there.
The document suggests that leading civil servants may also need to be approached to prepare the way for a ministerial meeting. Have his civil servants been leaning on my hon. Friend the Minister? Has he received any request for a ministerial meeting from those civil servants, on behalf of Southampton city council? I think that we need answers to those questions.
I am making a serious point. As well as the normal procedures, we have seen an outfit coming into play in the belief that it is possible to mislead the House. That may be why Southampton city council has been unwise enough to launch the revival motion: it imagines that it is a simple matter of engaging parliamentary agents—but I think, M r. Deputy Speaker, that the time has come to discuss how it was that the hon. Member for Norwich, South came to be the Bill's sponsor.
The document continued:
We have already advised that the ideal Member to sponsor the Bill is James Hill. We are aware that he has been subjected to considerable pressure and that it may be that the best that can be achieved is for him to be persuaded to adopt a neutral stance.
The idea of my hon. Friend adopting a neutral stance is fanciful.
In the event that Mr. Hill cannot be won over an alternative sponsor will need to be found.
A list of names follows, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). He spoke, very sensibly, on the motion. The list goes on and on. The document continued:
Whoever is chosen, a major priority of the project team will be to ensure that a proper brief is prepared with all the relevant issues adequately addressed.
I hope that the hon. Member for Norwich, South was properly briefed when he spoke this evening. His information does not seem to square with some of the information that we have received.
The hon. Gentleman says that he can write his own speeches. Southampton charge payers will want to know why on earth thousands and thousands of pounds are being spent on briefings and speaking notes when the hon. Gentleman admits that he can write his own speeches. The community charge payers represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Test are having to fund all this.
I should never have been a party to the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill if that sort of thing had gone on then. If any Opposition Member had discovered that the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill was being dealt with in the way that this Bill is being handled, he would have demanded to know what was going on behind the scenes —all the funny business and all the nobbling of Ministers, civil servants, special advisers and my hon. Friends. Finally, they had to nobble an Opposition Member to sponsor this Bill. They would have asked what was in it for me and what the Register of Members' Interests showed. It is funny how silent they all were.
Would the hon. Gentleman have advised Southampton city council to do what Associated British Ports did, with his acquiescence—to organise a champagne party for everyone who was willing to stay up to vote for the Bill?
I thought the hon. Gentleman would come to that. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when champagne was served to any of my hon. Friends who were kind enough to speak in the debate it was paid for by me out of my own pocket. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has mixed up that Bill with another Bill. I think that he meant to refer to the Felixtowe Dock and Railway Bill of five or six years ago. There were great celebrations both in the House and even more in my constituency when Royal Assent was given last year to the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Act. However, Associated British Ports did not pay for the champagne; I paid for it. One or two Labour Members were spied in the Smoking Room with half a glass of champagne in their hands, poured out by me.
Where are the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer)? They would have had a great deal to say about funny business behind the scenes and about public relations companies nobbling Members of Parliament and Ministers. Where are they? Perhaps the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East can tell me.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that neither my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) nor my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) are drinking champagne, whether provided by the promoters or anyone else.
I do not doubt that for a moment. However, I would have expected them to be showing concern about the way in which this private Bill is being brought before the House. I would have expected them to express the same concerns as I have been expressing. If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) were here, I am sure that he would have been apoplectic and unable to contain his rage—just as I and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Test feel. We are extremely concerned at the way in which the Bill is being promoted.
I have given clear reasons why, on a matter of principle, we should not allow the revival motion to proceed. I have taken some leaves out of the Opposition's book and I hope that they will vote with me on the basis that all the arguments that I have deployed have been theirs on previous occasions.
This has been an engaging debate. Unfortunately, we have not heard much from the Opposition. I shall try to keep within the parameters of the debate. This is a revival motion. When one hears that word one imagines that the animal is nearly dead. This can be kept alive for ever by throwing community charge payers' money at it. Even if the Bill is defeated this year, another, could easily be brought forward. There is a phalanx of advisers, public relations men, solicitors, attorneys and parliamentary agents. Everything on which the £750,000 has been spent could be itemised, but I do not intend to do so because there is enough evidence without humiliating hon. Members who have been drawn into this by the lobby of the House.
I have some papers that were given to Southampton city council so that it would know all about the scheme. The instructions to the council say:
There is no compulsion that the system must be built should the Bill receive the Royal Assent. However, Parliament requires to be satisfied that the proposed system is of sound concept in all respects and that Southampton city council is committed to the ultimate construction of the Southampton rapid transit system.
We have heard that the council is not committed to it. If it cannot find the investors, it will do nothing. Because the council could not achieve political harmony in its council chamber, all the money will be wasted.
I have begged the Bill's promoters for the past two years to withdraw the Bill and try to achieve political harmony and work towards a transport system that will serve the whole city. We should work on those lines, not on this esoteric construction in the sky which will simply look nice for the tourists. We need something for the people who have to travel to work in Southampton every day whether it is sunshine or showers.
The instructions go on:
The parliamentary agent has advised that a large majority vote by the city council in favour of depositing the Bill should help the passage of the Bill through Parliament.
As I have said, we need co-operation.
A small majority vote in favour or a vote split along party lines would cause concern in Parliament as would only limited support in the city for the Bill and the system.
We have heard that there is a split on party lines.
The company has already been set up and there is a horde of people who may be public relations people, a project team, advisers or consultants. The Bill contains the power for the council to create a private sector company to run the system and alternative powers for it to dispose of or franchise the operation of the system to another body.
If the council is unable to find investors—I doubt that it will be able to do so—what is its only alternative? 1 t must use enhanced land values in other parts of the city to finance the system. It did that for Citybus, which is now virtually owned by the local authority, and it will do exactly the same with this railway system.
Everyone agrees that the environment is a serious matter. There are five environment groups in Southampton. The Green party and the Liberal Democrats are against the rapid transit system. Labour may care to ignore Conservatives and say that they have no conception of the environment, but almost every environmentalist in Southampton is against the Bill. However, they can speak for themselves; they are very capable people.
The financial structure of the system is probably its most worrying aspect for Southampton's 207,000 citizens. We did not even know what it would cost until the House of Lords insisted on an estimate of expense. I have it here, and it is dated 30 November 1988. The elevated guideway is estimated at £12 million, easements at £2 million, stations at £5 million, one or two little odds and ends at only about £1 million—hardly worth mentioning—cars and vehicles at £14·4 million and purchase of land, minerals and permanent rights of way at £9·9 million. I have been hearing that it will cost only between £35 million and £45 million. That estimate, which was made two years ago, is £59·4 million. Its cost must have increased by at least 10 per cent.
We have been fighting a Bill about which only half-truths have been told. We were told something to keep us happy. The people of Southampton were not aware of what this system would do to the city. As I have asked many times, would any Member of Parliament, including my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Covin), allow such a train to be built in Winchester, Salisbury or perhaps even in Romsey? These trains are not suitable for areas of medieval England.
The Briway system could eventually cover the whole of Southampton, but not on an elevated track, which is three times as expensive as any other means of transporting trains. Hon. Members should recall their council days, when such expense always had to be pruned. No account is taken of the expense of this system. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was reported as saying at the Labour party conference that light railways have to be subsidised or they do not work. He gave the impression to a reporter from the Southern Evening Echo—he may deny it—that it was best for the Labour council group to wait until it had taken office, when it might be able to help with a pretty big subsidy. The hon. Gentleman broke into print—
The hon. Gentleman must know from his local paper that I corrected the story in a letter to the paper and in a letter to the council. I said that the reporter had got it wrong and the paper accepted that. As the hon. Gentleman must know, a statement was put in the press.
Indeed, I wrote a letter about the accusation against the hon. Gentleman. I knew that what he was basically saying was good socialist policy and he cannot deny it. It is good socialist policy to say that small railways do not pay, so we should subsidise them. That is what he was really saying at the conference.
We have heard a lot about finance. Whether the railway is subsidised is neither here nor there. We have been told that there will be some big investors. The local authority led us right up the garden path by telling us that Peter de Savary who, at that time, had just bought Eastleigh airport was going to provide a railway into Southampton to meet up with the people mover. Most of us know Peter de Savary pretty well. If he does not get planning permission, he moves on. In this case he received planning permission for Eastleigh and made a great business success of it.
As my hon. Friend says, he moved on.
I wondered who would be the biggest investor in Southampton to think of taking on part or even the whole of the project. I asked the port manager of Associated British Ports Holdings about that and he in turn got in touch with Sir Keith Stuart. A letter was sent to me on 14 January 1991 which stated:
Dear James, You asked me to let you know ABP's position so far as the proposed Southampton rapid transit project is concerned. It would seem that the project has quite some way to go"—
I agree with that wholeheartedly—
before achieving tangible support from those organisations who might have a direct interest. ABP would be indirectly affected by the proposed rapid transit system but we do not have any significant involvement with the project at this time.
Again, that is a bit of a smokescreen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside talked about drawing up a prospectus. The local authority has drawn up a prospectus. It has tried to get money from investors, but it has failed abysmally. It has about £60,000 to do a little project. If people in the market place were considering putting money on the prospectus that Southampton city council has put forward, they would be well advised to go to their solicitors immediately because there is no security in this venture.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has just arrived, on time as always. I hope that he will not try—
It is not possible in law to write a prospectus without having secured the passage of a Bill through Parliament. That means that any so-called prospectus is not worth the paper on which it is written and cannot be judged as a prospectus.
My hon. Friend has pointed out, as he did before, that no prospectus can be written until the passage of the Bill has been secured. But that has not stopped the council trying to obtain money from almost everyone. When I first discussed the financial structure and all the various people clinging to it and sucking the substance out of it, it occurred to me that Arthur Daley might describe the scheme as "a nice little earner". It has been just that. Some £750,000 has been spent, much of it in officers' time. I believe that £33,000 has gone to a public relations firm, and a tremendous amount—more than £200,000—has gone to consultants. The whole thing is a mess of pottage. We must try to get shot of it tonight.
This is the first occasion on which we have debated the present Bill, but the more I read of what the local authority does, the more disturbed I become. I was born in the city of Southampton, and for two or three generations my family has admired that city. It is a terrible thing to see what the local council has done to it. I even asked the other day whether we should get the Prince of Wales down as a consultant to look at what is happening to our city. In architectural language, it is the big shed syndrome, and every big shed in Southampton looks as though it will not be there in 20 years' time. There is no planning as such.
The council has pushed ahead with the railway scheme. The difficulty is that it was allowed to get its way because there did not seem to be anyone who could stop it while it was telling half-truths. Now we are getting down to the nitty gritty. We have heard a lot of truth tonight.
Most hon. Members present will think that this is a parochial issue with which they should not get involved. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for supporting me tonight. It is as well that we are to vote on the matter shortly, and I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing us to go a little wider than is usual on a debate on a revival motion.
I know that my hon. Friend is concerned with Southampton and with the Bill, but it may interest him to know that the county of Cleveland has already spent more than £750,000 in respect of a similar project in Teesside which has not even got as far as the project that we are discussing. That shows how community charge payers' money is being squandered the length and breadth of the land.
I thank my hon. Friend.
I suppose that, in the end, every politician—whether he is elected by 25 per cent. of the electors or by 70 to 75 per cent., as is usual for most Members of Parliament—must safeguard the financial interests of those who put him here. If I were called upon to defend what I have done this evening, I would have to say that I have done it specifically to protect my constituents who pay the community charge.
As I explained in an intervention earlier, I am a member of the Select Committee that has been examining the whole question of light rail schemes, which will shortly be producing a report. Obviously I cannot say what will be in that report as that would be most improper. However, a great deal of the evidence has been made public, and 1 wish to place on record what I consider to be a fundamental point.
In an intervention I pointed out that light rail schemes are now being produced because they are the flavour of the month. Absolutely no regard is being paid to the amount of public money that is being poured out to consultants and others in order to produce schemes without ascertaining whether they are the right schemes for the area in question.
Far more important in relation to the House is the fact that, if we are to have every local authority producing its scheme and trying to promote its Bill, that will make it increasingly difficult for those authorities that have schemes that will work and be accepted to find the time to go through the parliamentary process.
So, in my submission, those who recklessly bring forward proposals such as this are doing no service to public transport in this country, to light rail schemes or to community charge payers. In effect, they are wasting Parliament's time when we might be concerning ourselves with much more important matters.
|Division No. 55]||[9.55 pm|
|Allen, Graham||Lamond, James|
|Barron, Kevin||McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Bottomley, Peter||Madden, Max|
|Boyes, Roland||Marek, Dr John|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Meacher, Michael|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Michael, Alun|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Cousins, Jim||O'Neill, Martin|
|Cryer, Bob||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Dewar, Donald||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Dixon, Don||Prescott, John|
|Dobson, Frank||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Richardson, Jo|
|Foster, Derek||Rogers, Allan|
|Fraser, John||Ruddock, Joan|
|Garrett, John (Norwich South)||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Snape, Peter|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Soley, Clive|
|Gould, Bryan||Spearing, Nigel|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||Walley, Joan|
|Grocott, Bruce||Wilson, Brian|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)||Mr. Harry Barnes and|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Mr. Dennis Skinner.|
|Alexander, Richard||Clark, Rt Hon Sir William|
|Amess, David||Colvin, Michael|
|Arbuthnot, James||Conway, Derek|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas||Cope, Rt Hon John|
|Ashby, David||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Curry, David|
|Beggs, Roy||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bellotti, David||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Durant, Sir Anthony|
|Body, Sir Richard||Eggar, Tim|
|Boswell, Tim||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Fallon, Michael|
|Bowis, John||Favell, Tony|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Fishburn, John Dudley|
|Brazier, Julian||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Burns, Simon||Forth, Eric|
|Butterfill, John||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Fry, Peter|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Gale, Roger|
|Carrington, Matthew||Gill, Christopher|
|Carttiss, Michael||Glyn, Dr Sir Alan|
|Cash, William||Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)|
|Chope, Christopher||Greenway, John (Ryedale)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Patnick, Irvine|
|Ground, Patrick||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Hague, William||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)||Portillo, Michael|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Price, Sir David|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Redwood, John|
|Harris, David||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Riddick, Graham|
|Hill, James||Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy)|
|Holt, Richard||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Shersby, Michael|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Sims, Roger|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Steel, Rt Hon Sir David|
|Irvine, Michael||Steen, Anthony|
|Jack, Michael||Stern, Michael|
|Jackson, Robert||Stevens, Lewis|
|Kilfedder, James||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Knapman, Roger||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Lang, Rt Hon Ian||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Thorne, Neil|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Tracey, Richard|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Maclean, David||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Mans, Keith||Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Martin, David (Portsmouth S)||Waller, Gary|
|Mates, Michael||Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Wells, Bowen|
|Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Miller, Sir Hal||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)||Wood, Timothy|
|Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Neubert, Sir Michael||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nicholson, David (Taunton)||Mr. Michael Brown and|
|Paice, James||Mr. Tim Janman.|
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I rise to ask you a question about the Division. You will remember that for many years now the Government have claimed from the Dispatch Box neutrality on private Bills and stated that they would support any private Bill in a Division. You will recognise that in the Division tonight even members of the War Cabinet voted in the No Lobby to defeat a private Bill. Have you or the Clerks been notified of the reason why the Government destroyed the Bill tonight when previously they always claimed that their neutrality meant that they would support any private Bill before the House?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Tonight we have seen once again the farce of the way in which private business is conducted in the House. Have you been notified of any intention to bring forward reform of private business at an early stage? It must be in everyone's mind what a farce it is for the War Cabinet to have to adjourn so that its members can come to vote on a private Bill. It is high time we got the new procedure into use and did away with this farcical procedure.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you cast light on the extraordinary suggestion that members of the War Cabinet have broken off their deliberations to come here to wreck a private Bill sponsored by a local authority to improve public transport in Southampton? Are you in a position to say whether the ideological crackpottery of the Conservatives has been taken to that length? Can someone tell us what sort of message is sent to the people serving in the Gulf when the order of priorities means that members of the Government come here specially to defeat a public transport proposal for Southampton?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There have been attempts by the Government continually to obtain the consent and support of everyone for the war in the Gulf. Yet tonight the ideological prejudices and vendettas of the Government against a Labour-controlled local authority, which is promoting a private Bill through the procedure that it is bound to follow, have meant that they have broken off a War Cabinet meeting to come to the House to vote on the Bill. We should have a statement about the circumstances. Has any member of the War Cabinet intimated to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or asked your permission to make a statement to the House about the circumstances in which they place petty vindictive political advantage over what they consider to be the interests of the nation?