Mersey Tunnels Bill

– in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 23rd October 2002.

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Votes in this debate

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question,

That the promoters of the Mersey Tunnels Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next session of Parliament, provided that notice of their intention to do so is lodged in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present session and that all fees due up to that date have been paid;

That on the fifth sitting day in the next session the bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office;

That a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill presented in this House in the present session;

That on the next sitting day following presentation, the Clerk in the Private Bill Office shall lay the bill on the Table of the House;

That in the next session the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the present session, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages;

That no further fees shall be charged to such stages;

That all petitions relating to the bill which stand referred to the committee on the bill, shall stand referred to the committee on the bill in the next session;

That no petitioners shall be heard before the committee unless their petition has been presented within the time provided for petitioning or has been deposited pursuant to Private Business Standing Order 126(b);

That, in relation to the bill, Private Business Standing Order 127 shall have effect as if the words Xunder Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against bill)" were omitted.—[The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Question again proposed.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby 7:15 pm, 23rd October 2002

As the sponsor of the Bill, I wish to speak in support of the motion, which is procedural and not about the Bill's merits.

The Bill is promoted by the Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority, which together with its passenger transport executive is known as Merseytravel. The PTA comprises councillors from the five local authorities on Merseyside: Knowsley, Liverpool city, Sefton—

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The sound system does not seem to be working—none of us at this end can hear a word my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas is saying.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I will ask for that to be investigated. I could hear the hon. Lady perfectly well, but perhaps that could be examined. May I appeal to the hon. Lady to raise her voice in the meantime?

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a matter of clarification. If the motion were passed this evening, would there be no further Second Reading of the Bill in the next Session of Parliament?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

If the motion were passed, the Bill would resume in the next Session at the position that it has reached up to now. Second Reading has been obtained.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In your capacity as Chairman of Ways and Means, you tabled this motion, which, as I understand it, has the carry-over effect. Is it right to presume that the promoters of the Bill made representations to you that there should be a carry-over, as distinct from a revival? I understand that that would have been an alternative possibility.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

The motion would not have been on the Order Paper had I not received representations.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are those representations in the public domain? I just ask as a matter of inquiry.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not clear that this is part of a perfectly proper procedure? There has been a very long debate about the Bill, which has implications for a lot of local authorities. We are not doing anything revolutionary. Is this not the same procedure as normally happens under carry-over procedure?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We are operating perfectly in accordance with precedent. Nothing unusual has taken place.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

The passenger transport authority comprises councillors from the five local authorities on Merseyside: Knowsley, Liverpool city, Sefton, my own authority, St. Helens and Wirral. All those authorities support the Bill, as does Halton borough council, which is responsible for the Runcorn crossing of the Mersey.

The promoters have placed a statement in support of the motion in the Vote Office. As we are debating a procedural motion, this is not the occasion on which to discuss the Bill in detail. However, it may be helpful to remind hon. Members about the purpose of the Bill and its progress through the House.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Will the hon. Lady look at paragraph 12 of the promoter's statement in support of the carry-over motion, which asserts,

XThe Bill has all party support within Merseytravel"?

Is she aware that Councillor Jacquie McKelvie, the Conservative representative on Merseytravel, is against the Bill and voted against it on 25 July?

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observation. I am afraid that I was not aware of that fact, and I will seek further details after the conclusion of the debate.

The Bill was introduced in January and received its Second Reading on 9 July, after which it was committed to an Opposed Bill Committee. That Committee was due to consider the Bill earlier this month, but it had to be cancelled because one of the petitioners could not attend, unfortunately.

The Bill would amend the County of Merseyside Act 1980. First, it would replace the present tunnels' toll revision procedure, which is complex, lengthy, costly and always involves a public inquiry, with an index-linking mechanism, which would end the need for Merseyside's council tax payers to fund the operating deficits that the current procedures almost invariably produce. Secondly, it would provide that any real-terms increase in tolls would need to be approved by the Secretary of State.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

My hon. Friend is doing her best to put her case before the House, but does she accept that, in fact, the current figures do not show a deficit? The toll produces a break-even state of affairs and has done so for some years.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

That inquiry would have been better made on Second Reading. I wish to speak to the motion, which is procedural.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I adhere to the ruling that the motion is narrow, but surely, if an hon. Member raises a matter—the hon. Lady raised the substantive issue of the toll deficit—other hon. Members can respond.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I do not wish to hear a detailed debate about the substance of the Bill. If the motion is carried and there are further debates on the Bill, there will be opportunities for the House to consider detail. I am allowing the hon. Lady, in support of the motion that she is moving, to make a summation of the general purport of the motion to advance the Bill, but I shall not expect her to dilate too much on that either.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Bill would allow any surplus income to be used for local public transport services on Merseyside. It would remove the requirement for tolls to be reduced when the tunnel debts have been repaid. Lastly, it would permit Merseytravel to carry out noise insulation work on the properties near the tunnel approach roads on the Wirral.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

It is important to make it clear that we are not debating the Bill's content, the charges, or the rights and wrongs of who does and does not support it; we are talking about whether it should be allowed to proceed, which would give hon. Members of all political persuasions the opportunity to comment on many of those matters later. Attempts to stop the right to discuss that procedure would be unhelpful.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I thank my hon. Friend for that significant contribution. She is a distinguished hon. Member, and she has adequately and generously identified the reason why we are here this evening, which is to discuss not the Bill's merits, but a procedural motion.

The House has already committed the Bill to an Opposed Bill Committee, and the motion will allow proper scrutiny of the Bill to take place in that Committee. As a precursor to that scrutiny, the Government have reported on the Bill and made it clear that they have no objection to its key provisions. Promoters and petitioners are entitled to expect Parliament to give careful and reasoned consideration to private Bills on their merits and, by convention, the House allows such Bills to be carried over to enable that to happen. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead 7:24 pm, 23rd October 2002

Two almost unique circumstances come together in the Bill, which warrants more than a debate on a simple procedural motion. The Bill would delegate tax-making powers from the House to a transport authority, and linked with those powers is this procedural motion to carry over the Bill into the next Session. Over the years, Mr. Deputy Speaker, some hon. Members have tried to catch your eye to try to ensure the success of our own measures, which have fallen at the end of a parliamentary Session. Although such a motion is not unique, it would be wrong to suggest that it is a common occurrence.

As my hon. Friend Mr. Chapman has rightly said in the past, many aspects of the measure have support throughout the House. It is wrong for a transport authority to have to return to the House every time that it wishes to make the smallest change to a toll. It is clearly important that the transport authority can raise funds to manage the tunnels safely in Merseyside. It is important that the toll helps to pay off debts that have accumulated in the past.

It is also important that the measure gives the power to protect those tenants at the mouth of the Wallasey tunnel who do not gain financial support to install double glazing so that they are not disturbed by the noise emitted from the vehicles of those who use the tunnel. On all those fronts, there is general agreement in the House that this is a sensible measure. However, under the measure, the House would delegate tax-making powers to the authority, and I wish to speak about that briefly.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of the problems involved in the cumbersome procedure under which we labour tonight have been dealt with in public Bills? In the past, original legislation was amended by public Bills, not necessarily by this type of legislation. The benefit of that is that the entire House takes part in debating the legislation in the normal way. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be a better procedure for dealing with the issues that he properly raises?

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

That intervention shows that my hon. Friend knows much more about the procedures of the House than I do. I am certainly persuaded by his argument, but I am not sure whether it helps me to make my substantive point.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; there is always a frightening element in any intervention by a Cheshire Member in a Liverpool fight. However, I should point out to him that the advice that he has been given is not totally accurate. Of course it is almost accurate, but not totally accurate. The motion is not unusual or unique, and it has implications for all local authorities on both sides of the Mersey. I hope that hon. Members will not confuse the content of the Bill with what is a procedural motion. I would be very sorry if any Labour Member were to seek to stop debate or hinder the progress of a Bill not on what is actually happening, but on the content of the Bill.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

That brings me to the substantive point: if the Bill were to proceed and be successful, it would give an authority in Merseyside tax-making powers. We all know that, if we do not want a measure to proceed, we use whatever means we can to prevent that from happening.

I have lobbied the transport authority to say which aspects of the Bill I support and which I do not, and I have asked it whether it will accept the amendments that I have tabled. It has successfully drafted a letter back saying that it would say whether it supports those amendments after tonight's vote. In those circumstances, although I support much of the Bill and said in a brief intervention in the long speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South that I would vote for the Bill on Second Reading, I will vote against the carry-over motion tonight.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 7:29 pm, 23rd October 2002

I shall try to be brief and to stick to the procedure. I am conscious that Mr. Chapman may wish to contribute in his usual laconic way, and I would hate him to have to hurry.

Here we are again, debating a piece of legislation and trying to keep it alive. I would like to refresh hon. Members' memories of the reasons why we find ourselves in this position. Parliament has a procedure for private Bills, which we can all identify but which makes it virtually impossible for a private Bill of this nature to proceed. Such a Bill is in danger of being killed by circumstance rather than by a decision of Parliament. This is almost a textbook illustration.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a Bill can be killed by incompetence? Is that not the case in relation to this Bill and its promoters?

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

That has yet to be demonstrated. What was demonstrated last July was how easy it was for a Bill to be killed simply by the contribution of one Member—one Member had the power and capacity to talk it out and decide its fate. It would not have mattered whether that Member were backed by millions, by himself or by the press; he had the capacity, the potential and the ability to do so alone. Some may be unhappy with a majority decision in this place, but many more are unhappy with what is effectively a minority decision. No one in the country, the media, the Chamber or anywhere else would be prepared to stand up, not for opposition to the tunnels Bill, but for the principle that a serious issue for the House might have been decided by the filibustering of one Member. That procedure is antique.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

If the hon. Gentleman is such a purist in terms of democratic procedure, does he agree that the Bill's promoters should find a mechanism to negotiate and to raise the issues with people in my constituency who suffer the tunnel tolls on a daily basis?

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I was coming to that point. As a relative newcomer to the House, however, I must say that deciding a matter of principal public importance in the way that we do is about as sensible as making public policy by examining chicken entrails. I daresay that if there were mention of chicken entrails in XErskine May", there would still be some staunch opponents of that procedure, too.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

I disagreed strongly with the line taken by my hon. Friend Mr. Chapman on Second Reading, as I thought that we should advance and see whether the transport authority would be reasonable in accepting amendments. In relation to the hon. Gentleman presenting such a line against my hon. Friend, however, most of the successes of Back Benchers in the House have resulted from employing the very technique that my hon. Friend employed—they denied time to the rest of the House to get a measure through.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The fact that Back Benchers have to employ that technique is a criticism of the procedures of the House. If the opponents of the Bill believed that something was amiss democratically, it would be possible and conceivable for them to recommend another procedure. They could, for example, suggest that the decision should not be made in the House but should be devolved to the local authorities of the area. They will not do that, and they will not urge the Government to do that, because they know what the result will be.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

If I may, I shall proceed with my point.

If the majority of the councillors, elected by the majority of the people on Merseyside, were asked how they would vote on this recommendation, they would unquestionably say that the Bill should proceed and not that it should be blocked by the filibustering of one individual. I am amenable to all suggestions on procedure, and if there were a wish to do it another way, we could have a vote—

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not continue to use the word Xfilibuster", as it is forbidden by the rules of the House. I also remind him that it can be difficult to know whether some of his colleagues in the Liberal party are making their normal speeches or filibustering.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

With due respect, in this case, two wrongs do not make a right. I shall use whatever word the hon. Lady suggests is appropriate to describe such a performance, but it is not an elegant or attractive performance for the public at large. It does not indicate that this is proper democratic establishment. We need a procedure that allows us to make adequate progress with a private Bill, and we do not have such a procedure.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I am attracted by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, but he still has not answered the point. As he is a member of a minority party, surely he understands the need to protect the rights of minorities. My constituents have no say in this matter, yet they suffer daily the penalties of tunnel tolls. Under his mechanism, how would my constituents get a say in the decision-making process?

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

May I suggest that there are individuals in the hon. Gentleman's constituency called councillors? Some of them will be called Labour councillors, and some of them will be asked questions about what they stand for—I presume that they could be asked about the Mersey Tunnels Bill and lobbied by their constituents. A set of arrangements exists. The hon. Gentleman would not, however, agree with the procedure that I recommended a moment ago—letting the councils decide.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

The hon. Gentleman must understand—perhaps it is a question of geography—that while Southport is in Merseyside, Ellesmere Port and Neston, although it is on the side of the Mersey, is not in Merseyside but in Cheshire. My constituents, therefore, are not covered by the promoters of the Bill. They are substantial users of the facility but have no say under the mechanisms that he suggests.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Clearly, the mechanism can be perfected. I have had no indication that the opponents of the Bill are interested in making the process more democratic. They are simply interested in getting their way, as they have supported a procedure that I regard as arcane and unworthy of the House.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as I agree with the direction of his argument. Does he accept that there is a democratic deficit in using this procedure? Is it not therefore inherently likely that there will be a deficit in representation, as my hon. Friend Mr. Miller suggests, in the determination of what is, in effect, a tax-raising power?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Let me try to assist Dr. Pugh. I remind him that this is not a debate about the generality of the procedure on private business before the House. It is about whether this particular Bill should be granted a carry-over.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The principal thrust of my argument is that we have had a debate before on the merits of the proposed legislation. The net effect was that a majority of Members attending at the time voted that it should be continued. Owing to circumstance—that is all—we have not advanced to the next stage. We must now repeat the performance, and the same pitfalls may arise with the Bill's promoters. A majority vote of the House should be decisive. If it is not decisive, and if, for some reason, not enough Members are present tonight and the Bill falls, that will prove—I am forbidden to use the word Xfilibuster" but I will use whatever appropriate word I am guided to use—that such a fundamentally undemocratic procedure will carry the day. Any Member with an interest in democracy and in carrying forward the views of the House and of the people of Merseyside—rather than allowing matters to be determined simply by the fact that a Member is capable of speaking at length—should vote for the continuation of the Bill.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich 7:38 pm, 23rd October 2002

A load of rubbish is being talked tonight. I only want to make a small contribution to the debate, but it is important to make a few things clear.

The House will decide whether the Bill is good on the basis of the debates that take place. Not only is it a fact that Members use procedural methods known to all of us to hold up or to progress legislation, but I regard it as one of the few minor rights left to Back-Bench Members, most of which are being rapidly taken away from them by a Government who ought to know better. Tonight's debate has been very narrowly based, and I have tried to keep out of it as I think that it is finely balanced. The various interests in the Bill must be considered, and I do not intend to cross the line by discussing that this evening. What is important, however, is that if there has been a long debate—it has continued over several months—the least that we can do is allow the Bill to proceed. It is not the end of the debate on the Bill, as there will be other points at which other aspects can be debated. Amendments can be tabled and the legislation can be altered. Therefore, the motion will not close off debate on issues that concern both sides of the House.

It is clear that the Bill concerns Members with constituencies on both sides of the river. My involvement in the issue is simply the result of my interest in transport. I know the implications and difficulties that will arise if the Bill does not go forward, but I am prepared to accept that those with a constituency interest take a different view. However, my point is slightly different. I am not surprised when Members of Parliament use procedural methods to try to hold up private Bills or when people say, XIf the Bill does not go forward, it will cost the ratepayers on Merseyside a great deal of money." I understand why they do that.

Given the opportunity, I will cast a vote tonight and my decision will be determined by the fact that I believe that we should continue this debate. It would be an imposition on the ratepayers to return to square one and start again. That is my only concern, but it is important. The House of Commons has a responsibility to think in those terms before it commits local authorities to a great deal of extra expenditure.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point 7:41 pm, 23rd October 2002

I take issue with Mrs. Dunwoody, who said that carry-over would not frustrate debate on the Bill. That is not my understanding, and I seek explanation from someone as to what the actual procedure would be. I want not to discuss the Bill's merits but simply to explore the procedure. If the Bill is carried over, the motion states:

XThat in the next session the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the present session and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed through those stages."

The Bill will then simply proceed to a Committee of four Members of Parliament and they will take evidence, discuss the Bill and think carefully whether to accept the Bill as it stands or to reject it as a whole. They will consider whether any amendments might make it acceptable, and their decision will be reported back to the House. It would be very unusual for their decision to be varied by the House. The precedent is that their decision should simply be accepted.

The Bill's promoter and Mr. Howarth are nodding to suggest that my understanding is correct but, if I am wrong, the House will have the ability to debate and discuss the detail of the Bill again. However, I believe that my comments on the procedure to be adopted are accurate.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West 7:43 pm, 23rd October 2002

In an intervention on Dr. Pugh, I explained the reason for this debate. We are here to discuss the Bill because of the ineptitude of its promoters and the decrepitude of the system under which it has been proposed.

Hon. Members may know that this is not the first Bill to have come from these promoters. They started the process in 2000. It is their fault that they withdrew the first Bill and then came up with a second one. Although I accept what you say about the procedure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why should the House be asked to agree to a procedure that is rarely used just to save the promoters time and effort, when it is their fault that they found themselves in this position? Why should the House assist them when their own goal caused us to be here?

The promoters have been dilatory. When they first introduced the Bill, the office of Ways and Means offered the Bill a slot before the one that they eventually accepted. They declined that offer, thereby losing at least a month, if not two, of the legislative cycle. It is their fault that the Committee to which the Bill should have gone after Second Reading could not, for administrative reasons, be set up in September. Why should the House have any sympathy for the promoters, given that this problem is their fault? I shall discuss the decrepitude of our procedure more fully later.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

If the hon. Gentleman had listened carefully to my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas, he would have discerned that the delay did not result from a request made by the Bill's promoters. The request came from elsewhere.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I absolutely accept that he believes that. None the less, I take issue with him. The problem is entirely due to the promoters ducking out when they had the opportunity to take the Bill up in May or June instead of in July. That is my understanding.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. What evidence would he require, and be comfortable with, for us to prove our position?

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

This is not a court of law; it is the mother of Parliaments. I am afraid that I cannot take up that intervention.

Sadly, the two Bills have had a bad history. The first Bill contained a different formulation of schemes from the second one. The various schemes are misplaced and they are as misplaced as the position that their advocate in this place took on an earlier occasion. We are where we are because of thorough incompetence.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr. Miller for raising an interesting point in an intervention. This motion is not the only procedure available that would enable such a Bill to survive. I am not sure if this is the right term, but there can be a resurrection motion.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There can be a revival motion in the following Session, and that is better than the motion before us. No matter how many mistakes the Bill's promoters make or how many further opportunities to further the Bill they fluff, they carry on in what psychologists might describe as a dissociative state in their approach to legislation. They seem to be stuck in their own tunnel—one from which they cannot get out.

The motion raises a constitutional issue for my constituents. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order if I rehashed the debate on Second Reading.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I know that my hon. Friend does not want to repeat what was said in the previous debate. However, has he read the edition of the Liverpool Echo that appeared on the Saturday after that debate? A huge article on the front of the newspaper and a column inside tore to shreds the argument of my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth that persuaded many Members. If people had been made aware of those views—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. We are not returning to that debate, and I shall certainly rule it out of order if any further attempt is made to do so.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I understand my hon. Friend's point.

It is clear to me, as I hope it is to other hon. Members, that despite badly losing the debate on Second Reading, when we heard an incomparable speech by my hon. Friend Mr. Chapman, the House was deprived of an opportunity to tackle this serious issue in a comprehensive and useful manner. The arcane procedures under which we labour prevent us from doing that, which was the very point made by the hon. Member for Southport.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. In giving advice to the hon. Member for Southport, I ruled that the debate is not about the procedures that affect private Bills. If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate the subject, I am sure he will find a means of doing so, but it will not be in the debate tonight.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall pursue that for a moment. The procedure is unusual. Private Bills do not come before the House every day. Some understanding of the stage that we have reached is vital for the House when it decides whether this is the—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The procedure might not come before the House frequently, but it is a normal and familiar procedure. The Bill has obtained a Second Reading. The only question tonight is whether we allow it to be carried over into the next Session.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

Although it is proper that we are guided towards the fact that the procedure is normal, does my hon. Friend agree that it is abnormal to have a Bill that gives tax-making powers to a transport authority? No one is against people paying to use the tunnel and for its upkeep. No one is against people who use it paying off the debt that has accumulated. No one who uses the tunnel and pays the toll is against repaying the local authorities that, out of the goodness of the taxpayers' heart, bailed out the project many years ago. No one who uses it is against those tenants and residents who live around the Wallasey tunnel being properly protected. What is at stake, however, is a Bill that allows a transport authority to raise money that can be spent on things that have nothing to do with the tunnel—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken once. He cannot speak a second time.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I agree with my right hon. Friend.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I believe that my hon. Friend, who is an hon. Member of the House, inadvertently misled us. He said that delays in the procedure were brought about entirely as a consequence of the actions of the promoters. I have checked the facts. Second Reading could have taken place in May. As that would have been in the middle of local elections, it was decided that that was not an appropriate time to debate the Bill in the House. The Committee had the opportunity to meet in October. The request for that not to proceed came not from the promoter, but from one of the Bill's opponents, the north-west Trades Union Congress.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I am happy to go round in circles, if my hon. Friend so wishes.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I am not asking my hon. Friend to go round in circles. For the purposes of accuracy, I am merely asking him to amend the impression he wrongfully and, I am sure, inadvertently created.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

We have to agree to differ. My hon. Friend is not right.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

I did not intend to intervene, but I have a duty to inform the House, as an independent person, that the facts set out by Mr. Howarth are absolutely accurate. I assure the hon. Gentleman of that and hope he accepts it.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

The House must reach its own conclusion on who is right. I do not resile from my position. I genuinely believe that I am right; others may have a different view.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

As the hon. Gentleman is in a position to review his errors, I remind him of what Mr. Field said about the uniqueness of the Bill, which will enable funds to be used for purposes not directly related to the tunnel. I am sure that the Minister will tell him that in many transport schemes, including pay and display schemes, funds are used for a variety of transport purposes. So the use of such funds for those purposes is neither unique nor improper.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I am not sure where that takes us. The House heard my right hon. Friend make his point, which he made well.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

I claimed that the Bill was unique not on the grounds set out by Dr. Pugh but because we will never discuss the power again if we delegate it to the transport authority.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

The House should grasp that point, if no other.

The Bill was last debated on Second Reading, when only about 130 Members took part. It was 7 pm on a Wednesday evening and the decision was based on a free vote, so it was not unlike tonight. Three out of four right hon. and hon. Members do not participate in such procedures and we are deprived of their experience and wisdom simply because this is private business.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I have already told the hon. Gentleman not to talk about that in general. We are talking about a specific motion that relates to a specific Bill.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I apologise. I shall do my best to confine myself to the narrow motion before us.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. And I shall do my best to apply the Standing Orders of the House as fairly and objectively as possible. If the hon. Gentleman is not careful, they may be to his prejudice.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

The serious issues raised by the Bill, especially whether there should be a carry-over, never get the discussion or scrutiny that they deserve. The procedure arises from an historical accident. The House has not prescribed the procedure in a modern sense—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman almost anticipates my ruling. He continues to talk about the procedures of the House on private business. That is not in order.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Once again, I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I want to put on the record what the motion says. [Interruption.] I hear an hon. Member say from a sedentary position that we have been there. Frankly, we have not. We heard some of the motion, but not all of it.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the motion will be in the Official Report. I do not expect it to be repeated now.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Of course I will entirely abide by your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which I accept.

I shall summarise the motion for the purposes of my argument, so that hon. Members have the benefit of understanding my remarks in the context of the words on the Order Paper: the promoters of the Mersey Tunnels Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings. As I understand it, that means that the Bill will be held in abeyance, and if the procedure is not followed, the Bill will fall on Prorogation. If the carry-over is allowed, the Bill will continue its life. I submit to the House that the motion has a serious constitutional consequence, and I question whether this procedure is the appropriate vehicle for this Bill, considering its substance.Although the private Bill system may be familiar to the House, it is not best suited to legislation such as this, which contains tax-raising powers. I understood that to be the point made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Field.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead

My point, furthermore, was that unlike the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom we give tax-raising powers for a year, the authorities in question will be given tax-raising powers for ever, unless we later decide to withdraw those powers.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

That is a point well made, and it returns me to my intervention during the speech of my right hon. Friend. I was slightly criticised by my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody for being almost right when I said that if tax-raising powers are given and problems arise with certain undertakings, those problems can be cured by a public Bill. Problems arising from private Bills sponsored by railway companies, which regularly came before the House in the 19th century, and local authority undertakings, have been cured over time. The House found that the procedure was so unsatisfactory—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the ruling that I have given, and I shall take an increasingly serious view of that. He must talk about the particular motion before the House and not the generality.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

May I then turn to the issue of suspension, which is in order?

Normally, if a motion such as this is not before the House, every Bill that does not complete its passage through the House is quashed as a direct result of Prorogation. [Interruption.] I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the hon. Members for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) or for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) want to make a constructive contribution to the debate or whether they have just had a good dinner.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will leave it to me to maintain the order of the House. I suggest that he get on with his speech.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

XErskine May" observes:

XJust as Parliament can commence its deliberations only at the time appointed by the Queen, so it cannot continue them any longer than she pleases."

That means that the suspension seeks to nullify the effect of Prorogation. I submit that the Bill does not deserve the benefit of that procedure. The effect of Prorogation is to suspend all business at once. Every Bill—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now repeating himself, and there are Standing Orders that cover that. I hope therefore that he will not go on committing that error.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Every Bill in the normal way must therefore be introduced afresh at the beginning of a new Session. That is, of course, other than private Bills or hybrid Bills.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It has just come to my notice and, I dare say, that of a few colleagues that the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Estelle Morris, has resigned. Have you had any intimation that a Minister will be coming to the House forthwith to explain why that has taken place? As a former member of the then Education and Employment Committee, I think that the House and all those involved in education are owed an explanation, in the House, as soon as possible.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I have had no such intimation. This is time-limited private business that cannot be interrupted by any extraneous matter of that kind.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I was making the point that all Bills, other than private Bills such as this, must fall on Prorogation. The inability to carry over Bills from one Session to another involves constitutional considerations and is not governed by Standing Orders. It is, in effect, a convention of the House that a Bill is not carried over from one Session to another. I know that the convention has recently been considered by the Modernisation Committee.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am trying very hard to follow the hon. Gentleman's point. He is saying either that this motion is allowed by the procedures of the House, but it ought not to be, or that it is not allowed for some reason. If it were not allowed, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would have given us a ruling by now. Is the hon. Gentleman's argument therefore that this motion is allowed, but in his view it ought not to be? If that is the case, he is making a substantial point about the procedures of the House which has already been ruled out of order by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

My point is that this is not simply a case of a Bill going through on the nod. The House is being asked to make a substantial derogation from the normal procedures for a Bill.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

If that is the hon. Gentleman's point, we might as well concede it and say that he is stating the obvious. This procedure is within the legitimate remit of the House. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is arguing that it ought never to be used, so he does not seem to have an argument at all.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the Bill has implications for an area far wider than Merseyside, including Cheshire, north Wales, east Lancashire and areas beyond and that its promoters can purport to represent only Merseyside? Is he suggesting that the precedents set by the Bill will have an impact on other ports, tunnels and crossings? Is he suggesting that—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot make a speech on an intervention, and the content of his intervention has very little to do with the motion before us.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Being ever mindful of the narrow point that is under discussion, but trying to do justice to the constitutional position as I see it, I must say that some of what my hon. Friend was saying is relevant to the matter under consideration.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the procedure that we are using is perfectly proper and that the procedures undergone by the Bill so far, namely the fact that it has had a Second Reading, are all perfectly in order?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I can confirm that. We just have one matter to decide tonight: whether the Bill should be allowed to continue into another Session so that its merits can be further considered in that Session.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it true that the subsequent passage of the Bill would not preclude amendments and that it could be scrutinised at various stages if it progressed after tonight?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

The hon. Lady is right. She knows her procedure well and I am sure that Stephen Hesford could benefit from that.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South was making the point that private Bills are designed to deal with narrow matters such as railway companies or a matter that affects a specific locality. My hon. Friend nods, and I believe that the point is relevant. I am trying to distinguish between what could legitimately be passed by means of a public Bill and what should be tackled through private Bill procedure.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Our business tonight is not to decide the Bill's merits and implications; we are considering a procedure for carry-over. The Chair has accepted the motion for debate by the House, and it is therefore perfectly proper and in order. The hon. Member should direct his attention to it.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want simply to present the case that because the Bill applies to the region of Merseyside and contiguous parts of Cheshire and other areas in the north-west, the locality that it covers is wider than normal.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman is simply repeating himself. I remind him that I have Standing Orders at my disposal to control that. I advise him to move on.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

I shall move on. Part of my prepared speech involved considering the way in which the private Bill procedure came about. However, I cannot do that and I shall therefore conclude.

Hansard for the week of 15 to 23 December 1919 shows that the House debated a carry-over matter. I should like to read out some of the debate because it illustrates the reasoning behind the carry-over procedure.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Member is in serious danger of abusing the procedures of the House. We are considering a specific motion, which deals with whether the Mersey Tunnels Bill should be carried over. I have said more than once that our debate is not about the generality of private Bill procedure and whether it is appropriate. The hon. Member has only one question to tackle tonight. If he strays outside its limits again, I shall apply Standing Orders and cause him to desist.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

The Leader of the House in December 1919 tried to bring before the House—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I have just ruled on that. I shall apply Standing Order No. 42, which will cause the hon. Member to resume his seat if he does not conclude his speech within the proper terms of the motion.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

In conclusion, and bearing in mind your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask hon. Members to appreciate that the Bill is a bad measure, which is bad for the people of Merseyside. Its promoters have previously benefited to some extent from having a pause for thought. Hon. Members would assist the promoters if they allowed them a further pause.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

My hon. Friend may consider the Bill a bad measure that is bad for Merseyside, but I thoroughly disagree. It is a good Bill, which is exceptionally good for most of the people of Merseyside who stand to gain considerably from it.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

On a previous occasion, the Bill's promoters benefited from a pause for thought. They lost the first version of the measure and, in the intervening period between the first and second Bills, they reconsidered. They subsequently presented another Bill that was substantially different from the first version. If hon. Members reject the suspension, it will give the promoters further time for consideration. It is therefore in the interests of the House and my constituents to give the promoters that time. We can do that only if the Bill is stopped in the current Session.

I therefore ask hon. Members to reject the suspension, allow the Bill to fall in the normal way, and let the promoters present another Bill if they want to change the regime. If hon. Members agree to the motion to suspend without understanding the implications, the promoters will rush ahead. After acting in haste, they will repent at leisure.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General 8:17 pm, 23rd October 2002

I am a little disappointed that the Minister had to leave the Chamber, but in the light of recent events, he may have had to rush out to take a telephone call. We shall have to await the outcome. Perhaps he will not hold the same position when he returns.

I apologise that I was unable to be present for the first few minutes of the debate; I was otherwise detained on parliamentary business. We are considering an important matter within the narrow limits of the motion. It pertains to my constituents, and I echo the wise counsel of Mrs. Dunwoody, who said that those of us in Cheshire must tread carefully in dealing with an internecine dispute between those who represent Liverpool. However, as other Cheshire Members have said, we have a genuine constituency interest in so far as many of our constituents use the tunnels daily. They bring jobs and prosperity to Liverpool and therefore have a genuine connection with the city.

I decided to make a short contribution to tonight's debate because I am the Conservative Member whose constituency is closest to the tunnels. The motion has given me the opportunity to reflect on the way in which the process is being handled.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

Yes. I thought that the hon. Gentleman had an adequate opportunity to develop his points, but I shall listen to him again.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his constituency is not very close to the tunnels?

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

I am sure that no hon. Member needs a geography lesson. The motor car is an amazing invention; perhaps the hon. Gentleman has come across it. It makes us very close to the tunnels.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many Cheshire people not only travel rapidly through the tunnels but frequently take the wrong one?

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

Given the personal point that the hon. Lady raises, I shall declare an interest, having done just that myself.

There is a genuine reason to look carefully at whether the motion should be passed tonight. I listened carefully to my neighbouring MP from the constituency of Crewe and Nantwich. I was nearly persuaded by her approach, but not quite. I also have to say that Stephen Hesford did not advance the cause of encouraging those who might vote against the continuation of the Bill into the next Session. He did his cause no favours, particularly as he based so much of his argument on the competence of the promoters of the Bill. I did not feel that competence was a highlight of his contribution this evening, when it came to the use of the procedures of the House, so there was a slight irony in that. Luckily, Hansard tends not to record irony, so there may be some mercy in the way in which his efforts are recorded for posterity.

The most important point is that my constituents have a right to feel aggrieved by the promoters of the Bill, who have approached this matter in a very narrow, Liverpool way, rather than consulting widely among all the potential users of the tunnel. I do not just mean users from Cheshire. I mean users from Ireland and users of the great transport links that combine with our motorway network to facilitate trade. Such consultation seems neither to have been effective nor genuinely to have taken place.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but is he also arguing that his constituents might be prepared to fund the deficit that might arise unless the Bill is allowed to proceed this evening?

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point. I want to be careful not to stray into the substance of the Bill—which is a matter for a future occasion, however it arises—but Mr. Field made it perfectly clear that at heart of the matter is the issue of local tax-raising powers. Without going into that, may I say that it has a genuine connection with the reason why my constituents feel aggrieved? In relation to that, is it better for the Bill to be allowed to continue into the next Session, with the possibility of amendments being tabled, to reflect the concerns that my constituents have increasingly been presenting to me and to other MPs from Cheshire and other counties, or to give the promoters—given the record to date—a chance to think again about the process and the way in which the Bill is constructed to take into account all the interested parties, including those who would not be caught in the net in terms of the tax being raised?

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point that consultation on the Bill has been somewhat imperfect. He mentioned Ireland, which is quite a way away from the tunnels. Eddisbury is possibly a little bit nearer. How far would he cast the net in this case? As I understand it, Members of Parliament in all parts of England have been informed about this. Will the hon. Gentleman give the House some idea of where exactly he would draw the line—how far south, how far east? Is he including Ireland?

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

As my name has an XO'" at the beginning, I do have a certain partiality to the Irish. That said, given that the Chairman of the Transport Committee is in her place, I must say that it is critical to the consideration of the Mersey Tunnels Bill to recognise that this matter is integral to our national transport network. It has not only a transport element but a national competitiveness element which must be considered. That involves all user groups, which could include those from this country engaged in trade to Ireland, and those coming from Ireland. My view is that we should not look at this geographically, but engage in consultation with user groups and those who will be affected by anything that takes place that pertains to the tunnels. I hope that that answers the point raised by Dr. Pugh.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

I would like to present to the House the balance of judgment that I have had to make, but I shall do so after I have given way to Mr. Chapman.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a particular Irish dimension to this matter, in that we now have a new Irish ferry going from Birkenhead to various points in Ireland? It is a roll on/roll off service that has just commenced operations, and to reach it, vehicles will have to travel from various parts of the United Kingdom to Birkenhead through the tunnel. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that represents a very particular Irish dimension, and that the commercial dimension also has a national dimension?

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which illustrates the need to ensure that all the user groups affected by whatever may take place in the tunnels should be incorporated in the process of the Bill, which has hitherto been very narrowly focused by the promoters on the needs of the areas on the north side of the Mersey which they, quite rightly, seek to represent.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that if the Bill were carried forward, the points that he is making could easily be encompassed in amendments. There would be no difficulty at all in that, because what we are talking about is the finance to be made available for a major transport infrastructure that—like some of us—is not as young as it once was.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

I hope that I made it clear earlier that I was very persuaded by what the hon. Lady had to say in her speech, and I accept that the Bill would be amendable if it were carried over into the next Session. If that were allowed, it would, subject to the Orders of the House, appear in the next Session. I believe, however, that that would give insufficient time for the consultation of user groups and others with an interest in the matter that has so far failed to take place effectively. Otherwise, I might well be minded to agree with the hon. Lady. Although we have already had four years, they have been four missed years in terms of consultation at a level that I think is necessary to incorporate all those interests.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

May I take the hon. Gentleman back for a moment to the Irish dimension? He is perhaps not a veteran of these debates, as some of us have been, but after the last debate, a good number of Ulster Unionist MPs voted in favour of the Bill, and those who opposed the Bill actually complained that they had expressed an opinion. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of that?

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

On the contrary, my view is that the House survives—just—by being the representative House of the United Kingdom, and I am delighted that any Member from any part of the United Kingdom has the opportunity to express their views, both on behalf of their constituents and in the national interest. I therefore make no complaint about that whatever.

We need to consider the time needed to consult at a level necessary to encompass all those who have a genuine interest in this matter, including my constituents, and to adopt a more imaginative approach than the more narrowly based one taken by the promoters. Such consultation would need to incorporate many of those from whom the Chairman of the Transport Committee takes evidence in her Committee. It would need to include the various hauliers and associations. They have taken a view, but I would like to see something more overarching in terms of our national transport policy.

I do not wish to stray beyond the indulgence of the Chair, but I think that, for instance, it would take longer than a carry-over would permit to negotiate a deal involving heavy goods vehicles that would enable the Bill to become law and enable the tax-raising powers to be established. An ever-increasing number of HGVs use the tunnel. They often travel down the Wirral and then do not leave the motorway network because of the difficulties in the Birmingham area. Instead, they go down the trunk roads, often using my constituency and my neighbour's to the great detriment of those constituencies, despite the fact that a motorway network is available.

As I have said, a large overarching deal would be needed but would take longer than a carry-over would allow. I do not support the carry-over, because I think the promoter should have a chance to think again and start the consultation again.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Surely this is an issue not just of consultation, but of whether the promoter responds to the consultation meaningfully. I understand that 67 per cent. of respondents to the earlier consultation did not agree to the cross-subsidy from the tolls being used in the way proposed.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

It is unusual for me to agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he will note from the proceedings of the court of referees that the promoter sought to dismiss a petition from the Federation of Small Businesses on the grounds that its area of activity was too wide. That underlines what he has been saying.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important example. If small business men, of all people, do not see the benefit, I think they must be right—as are my constituents. Not only do they derive jobs from Liverpool, and need to travel there; many of them—commuters who choose to live in my part of the world but to work in Liverpool—are bringing jobs and prosperity to the city. They should be taken fully into account. The narrow view of the promoter has done this whole process a disservice.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is the second Mersey Tunnels Bill. Obviously, the legislation has already been through various stages. The hon. Gentleman may also know that, contrary to the assertion of Dr. Pugh, the vast majority of people on Merseyside—according to any measure I would use—do not support the Bill. The press do not support it, businesses do not support it, users do not support it and the unions do not support it. As far as I can detect, only Merseytravel supports it.

Is the hon. Gentleman confident that, in the event of a carry-over, the Bill's opponents would rethink their position? They have had ample opportunity to do so, but have shown no sign of movement.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

That has been something of a problem. It is a matter of personal regret to me that I could not take part in earlier deliberations because I was dealing with other parliamentary business or, indeed, other matters generally. Nevertheless, I have followed developments carefully and—like the hon. Gentleman, no doubt—have received many representations. Indeed, my fax and e-mail machines seem to have been whirring overactively today, as, no doubt, have his. I have been unable to detect any support for the Bill other than that cited by him.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

The hon. Gentleman may wish to make it clear whether, if the Bill falls and there is another period of some years before legislation is brought back to us, he would be prepared to suggest to the voters of Cheshire that they offer a transport subsidy to Merseytravel.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

It would be highly presumptuous of me even to contemplate such an offer without consultation. Especially given the hon. Lady's important and respected role as Chairman of the Transport Committee, I suggest that part of the consultation should involve viewing the tunnels, as a crucial element of the national network—which is why I think that the consultation will require a longer process than a carry-over would provide. I respect the hon. Lady, of course, but I do not think she would rapidly join me in urging Cheshire voters to put their hands in their pockets. In any case, I do not think they have had an opportunity to examine the issues.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

I did not say that I would do it; I said that the hon. Gentleman would.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

I would be seeking as much consensus as possible, as I always do. That might include a discussion between the hon. Lady and me to establish whether we shared a view.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

I do not want to prolong my speech. Others want to speak, including Mr. Howarth.

I think that the proposal should go back to the drawing board. The consultation needs to be more widespread and more encompassing. The Bill should be looked at in a strategic way.

I am glad that the Minister has resumed his seat. I hope he did not have to rush out to take a telephone call, but if he did I hope I am the first to congratulate him.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East 8:35 pm, 23rd October 2002

Any impartial observer of today's proceedings may well have been entertained, but will not have been particularly well informed. Mr. O'Brien, entertaining though he was, added nothing whatever to the debate. His first suggestion was that the people of Ireland should be consulted about the Bill. I have been thinking about that and the only Irish connection that I can come up with is that the speech by my hon. Friend Stephen Hesford had something of the Parnellites about it, although it was far less successful.

The second suggestion from the hon. Member for Eddisbury was that the employees of Merseytravel should be sent patrolling the highways and byways of the midlands trying to elicit the opinions of drivers of heavy goods vehicles who at some point in their perambulations around these islands may have found their way through the Mersey tunnel. Entertaining though that is, it hardly takes the debate any further.

The substance of the debate is whether or not the Bill, which has received a Second Reading, should be allowed to progress. In effect, that means that it will go into Committee. Every time my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody tries to leave the Chamber, someone refers to her. As she put it in her first intervention in the debate, we are here to decide only whether or not the Bill, which has received a Second Reading, should go into Committee. I do not know why some of my hon. Friends, and seemingly the hon. Member for Eddisbury, have this appalling fear of the Bill being considered in Committee. It would be subject to a particular Committee procedure, not that which would apply to a public Bill. I fail to understand this great fear that something terrible will happen when the Bill goes into Committee. Although I understand that four hon. Members have been appointed to the Committee, I have not taken the trouble to find out who they are. I am sure that they will deal with it sensibly as hon. Members always do when dealing with these matters. It would then return to the House on Report, when there would be ample opportunity to amend it. What is so fearful about that procedure is a matter of mystification.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

My hon. Friend mentioned an important point. If this were a public Bill, it would fall at prorogation. Many of us believe that enough time has been given to Mersey tunnel legislation since just after the general election. There is no justification for giving priority to this private Bill, as would be the case were it a public Bill, and I think that it should fall.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I thank my hon. Friend for giving us the benefit of his many years' experience in the House, but he knows as well as anyone else that there is a world of difference between the private Bill procedure and the public Bill procedure. If the Government want to get a public Bill through the House, they can find the time to do so through the House authorities and the usual channels, so my hon. Friend is making a bogus point. He knows that I hold him in great affection and we agree about many issues, but on this occasion I do not think that he was making a serious point.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Will my hon. Friend also note that the Government are seeking to change the rules of the House so that public Bills can be carried over? Many of us think that that is also an interesting idea.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be tempted too far down that road in reply.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

As I hold my hon. Friend in such regard, I am always open to travel on any road down which she wants to tempt me. However, on this occasion I accept your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will not go in that direction.

The House should allow the Bill to proceed, and we must ask what the consequences will be if we do not. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West adopted the novel concept that we should always reject Bills on the grounds that the next time they come back, they will always be better. If we adopted his approach, it would be rather like Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution: if we keep it going long enough, we will eventually reach some kind of perfect constitutional state. That is a fascinating concept. [Interruption.] At this point, my hon. Friend has walked out. I cannot think why. Perhaps he has gone to consult Lenin on what is to be done.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Lenin, not Lennon.

While fascinating, the concept of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West is one that the House should consider with trepidation. If the principle is that the Bill should be constantly rejected because the next one will be better, it means that, round about the year 2050, it might be possible to get a Mersey Tunnels Bill through the House.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Clearly my hon. Friend thinks that that is a good idea, which gives us a measure by which we can judge the length of his vision, but not necessarily the strength of his arguments.

I wish to refer to the possible consequences if we do not allow the Bill to go forward. My right hon. Friend Mr. Field said that, at the moment, the tunnels are not in deficit. He is right, so to some extent, that blunts the argument that there is any urgency. But for argument's sake, if there were a huge safety issue and the tunnel authorities had to spend money in a hurry on improving the safety of the tunnel, or on some other aspect of the tunnel management, it is possible that the tunnels could go into deficit.

If that were to happen, the House—particularly Cheshire Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who understands the issue—should know that what will happen will be, as in 1992, that the council tax payers in my constituency and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) and for Bootle (Mr. Benton) and others will have to find the money.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

This is a nice hypothetical argument, but does my hon. Friend accept that the tunnels are making an operating surplus, that the forecast is that they will make an operating surplus for some time to come, and that the scenario that he describes is an unlikely one in the foreseeable future?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I have the highest regard for my hon. Friend, whose forecasting powers are legendary across the Wirral peninsula. On this occasion, he is making a prediction that may or may not be right. However, I hope that he will concede that we cannot see into the future; it is perfectly possible that something may go wrong that will acquire additional expenditure. If that took the tunnel authorities into deficit, there could be only one place they could go—the council tax payers. That may be a matter of some concern to my hon. Friend, just as it is to me. However, as I understand it, between 3 and 5 per cent. of my constituents—

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I will, but I should tell my hon. Friend that I am trying to make a serious speech; I am not in any way trying to prolong the debate.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I thank my hon. Friend; this is a serious intervention. He claimed that the Mersey tunnels authority would have recourse to an increase in council tax only if a catastrophe or unforeseen circumstance occurred, but in such a situation it could apply to the Secretary of State for an increase in the tolls. There would be a public inquiry, and if the inquiry found in the authority's favour, it would be allowed to increase the tolls.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I did not bait a trap for my hon. Friend, but had I done so, it would have been a perfect one . The truth of the matter is that it would take at least 22 months between the authority's discovering that it was in deficit and going to the Secretary of State for approval, and having a public inquiry, the funding of which would probably involve shelling out some half a million pounds. In the meantime, who would pay for it? Not this House or the Secretary of State, but council tax payers in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend. All five Merseyside boroughs would have to pick up the tab. My hon. Friend's intervention was helpful, although not, I think, in the way that he intended.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what is being suggested is that the principle that council tax payers throughout Merseyside should be liable is good and sound?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but I do not intend to go down that road, as I suspect that to do so would incur your censure, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, it is legitimate for me to ask whether, if we kill the Bill tonight, the House would feel comfortable with the tunnels going into deficit and my constituents having to pick up the bill in perhaps 12 or 18 months' time. The House has the constitutional right to take such a decision, but I do not think it proper for the House to say, XWe're not worried about that. If it ever happens, the constituents concerned will have to bear the consequences."

Such a situation is not entirely hypothetical; it happened exactly as I described in 1992, when the council tax payer had to pick up the tab.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman's argument is very interesting, but in what way is it consistent with that deployed in the letter—copies of which were sent to all hon. Members—from the general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen? It states that, if implemented, Merseytravel's proposals would

Xgenerate an additional #2.5M in revenue for local public transport per year—and an additional borrowing source, for the Merseyrail network, local bus services and the Mersey Ferries."

The general secretary's view of the Bill's effect seems rather different from that of the hon. Gentleman's.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has been listening carefully, so perhaps there has been some inadequacy in the way in which I have expressed myself. I am talking about what will happen if the Bill is not passed, but the hon. Gentleman is describing what might happen if it is. I do not blame him for misunderstanding me; it is clear that, on this occasion, my powers of expression were not up to it. There is a world of difference between what he and I are describing.

I do not want to take up any more time. I am anxious that progress be made and that all hon. Members with something to say are able to say it. All we are asking is that decisions about the level of tolls should be made by the Merseyside PTA. Any change in the level would be index-linked to inflation. What is wrong with that? Why should the House prevent the PTA from having the power to make such decisions? Why is it so attached to the idea that the appropriate way to determine tolls involves the Secretary of State and a public inquiry?

I do not think that the House should be attached to that idea. I hope that the Bill is allowed to go forward and that the motion will be agreed tonight.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby 8:50 pm, 23rd October 2002

I have decided to contribute to the debate for two reasons. The first is that the Bill is generally unpopular, as is borne out by correspondence that I have received from the trade unions, including Amicus, that represent workers in the Mersey tunnels. However, I shall not develop that theme, as that will require that I deal with the details of the Bill.

My second reason for rising to speak is that I believe that the Bill's promoters have wasted enough of the House's time since the last general election. The House will recall the earlier Bill on this subject, which contained an element of privatisation. The Chairman of Ways and Means kindly made available a slot for discussion of that Bill, but my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas was not in her place at the time, and the Bill fell. The result was that the House finished early that night. Many hon. Members rejoice at having an early night, but the three-hour period allotted for the debate could have been used for some of the other important matters that the House has to address.

The earlier Bill on this subject was dropped because of its clear unpopularity. The element of privatisation was removed, and a new Bill—the subject of this motion—was introduced. A slot for debate was allocated, but the Bill's promoters did not take it up, using local elections as an excuse. However, anyone with a knowledge of Merseyside district councils would have known that those elections would not lead to a tremendous transformation, as only a third of the total number of councillors were up for re-election. There was therefore not going to be an earthquake that would make a difference to the feelings of those district councils in favour of the Bill.

A second slot for debate was allocated, and the promoters achieved a Second Reading for the Bill—narrowly, as they had only just enough supporters present to allow a vote to take place. Unfortunately, most hon. Members are unaware of the Bill's contents, as was the case with its predecessor. As a result, they have taken no part in the debate.

Misleading remarks have been made, especially in the previous debate on this Bill. A misleading letter was sent to hon. Members before the Second Reading vote, with the result that many were incorrectly led to believe that the trade unions were in favour of the Bill.

I have already mentioned the article in the Liverpool Echo on the Saturday following the debate, which analysed some of the claims that had influenced right hon. and hon. Members.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

My hon. Friend made some observations about the Bill's promoters delaying its discussion in the House at or around the time of the local elections. In fact, as a consequence of those elections, the PTA changed from a hung authority to a Labour-controlled authority.

My hon. Friend also referred to the unions' mass objection to the Bill. I remind him that the Bill is supported by all the district councils on Merseyside, ASLEF, Unison, Transport 2000, Friends of the Earth and the Liverpool chamber of commerce.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, but I was referring to the Merseyside TUC and all the trade unions mentioned in the Liverpool Echo article, which showed that the information given to the House on the Bill's Second Reading was misleading.

The promoters have asked us to consider the Bill during the next Session of Parliament without another Second Reading. If we oppose the motion this evening, they will still have the right to petition for a private Bill during the next Session of Parliament. So what are they afraid of? Many arguments have been put forward in the press and elsewhere since the last Second Reading.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

The hon. Gentleman began his speech by saying that the proponents of the Bill had delayed it and wasted time. He now appears to be recommending that the people who support the Bill put up with another delay by going away today and coming back another time. What is he saying? Is he in favour of delaying the Bill or not?

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I am in favour of delaying the Bill now for a very simple reason: I believe that enough time has been taken up in considering the matter since the election. The House will have important issues to deal with during the next Session of Parliament. Giving the Bill more time in the next Session will preclude debate on other important issues. That is bound to happen. There is no reason why this private Bill should be given a preference that is not given to a public Bill. It is not that important, simply because the Mersey tunnels are not in deficit. They are in profit at the moment, and are likely to be for some considerable time. I acknowledge the possibility that things might change by 2050, but I suggest that neither my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth nor I will be in this House by then, although we might be in the other place—and I do not mean the other place in the Houses of Parliament.

It is ludicrous that we are being asked to consider the Bill yet again on a preferential basis. Let the Bill's promoters consider what has been said over the past months and, if they want, they can come back with another private Bill. I believe that around 22 November, people will be allowed to petition for a private Bill. Let them do so. I do not think that the people of Merseyside will be put out by that because, frankly, all the correspondence that I have had suggests that I should oppose tonight's motion to allow the Bill to make further progress on a preferential basis.

The current Session, which will finish on 6 November, began just after the general election in June 2001, so there has been adequate time for discussion of, and consultation about, the proposed legislation. After such a long Session, there is no reason why the Bill's promoters should have the privilege of taking the measure into Committee in the next Session without depositing another Bill. I urge them not to introduce another Bill, however, as the present Bill has already cost the taxpayers of Merseyside enough, and I do not believe that they think it is useful expenditure. Such expenditure is certainly not urgent; that is why the motion should be opposed.

After all, under XFuture Business" in the Order Paper, we can see streams of private Members' Bills, many of which deal with serious issues, but they fall at Prorogation. There is no reason whatever—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not continue down that route. He is straying rather wide of the motion under discussion.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I accept your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the House should consider what will be displaced if we allow the motion to proceed and the Bill is carried over to the next Session. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, we have little enough time to discuss many things, such as private Members' Bills or the reports of Select Committees, so why on earth should this ludicrous Bill, which does not have support in Merseyside, let alone the rest of the country, go ahead of all those other matters?

Early-day motions go undebated. My hon. Friend Mr. Allen has tabled one on the parliamentary approval—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Again, may I bring the hon. Gentleman to order and remind him to confine his remarks to the motion before the House?

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I take your guidance again, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, I was explaining what would be precluded by allowing this private Bill to be carried over into the next Session. It would displace much more serious measures, which may be of national relevance.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Earlier in the hon. Gentleman's speech, he recommended that if the proponents of the Bill are beaten today, they should return with another measure in the future. I am at a loss to understand how, if they followed his good advice, they would not displace even more measures than if they had carried on with the present Bill.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I have faith in the good sense of hon. Members. When the House has considered the arguments and realised that many misleading comments were made on Second Reading, I am confident that if another private Bill were introduced, we would have the sense to defeat it on Second Reading. We should not have to set up a Committee of four. We should not have to discuss the measure on Report. There would not be a Third Reading debate. If we accept the motion, however, the next stage of the Bill will take place in the next Session and it will be the Committee stage. The Committee will then report to the House. I assure hon. Members that the Report stage will not be made easy for the promoters of the Bill because a considerable number of amendments will be moved. The chances are that, on Third Reading, the Bill will be very different from what the promoters want.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. In other words, there is no reason why the Bill should not be allowed to continue, because it can be amended at any stage. On Third Reading, the Bill may be totally different, and agreeing to the motion tonight would not change that.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

I am grateful for that comment from my hon. Friend, who is well respected in the House, but I am trying to save time. We shall have enough important work to do. We do not know what the Queen's Speech will contain, but we can guarantee that it will contain a considerable amount of legislation. That will be far more important for my constituents, and people generally, than this miserable Bill, which is so unpopular that the people of Merseyside expect their representatives to oppose it. Only a minority would concede the case for pursuing the Bill through the next Session. I hope that it will receive even greater opposition than on Second Reading, so that we may prevent this measure from wasting our time further in the next Session.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 9:06 pm, 23rd October 2002

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Wareing, who told us on Second Reading that he was a pedestrian in 1934 when the Queensway tunnel was opened and he walked right through it. He has considerable knowledge of the issue.

I am concerned that the statement by the promoters in support of the motion to carry over is inaccurate, as I pointed out in my intervention in the speech by Mrs. Curtis-Thomas. Paragraph 12 states:

XThe Bill has all party support within Merseytravel."

It does not. It does not have the support of the Conservatives on Merseytravel and, on 25 July at the Merseytravel PTA meeting, Jacquie McKelvie spoke and voted against the proposal. The promoters might think that that is an irrelevance, but I suggest that that is indicative of a somewhat casual approach to accuracy, which has been apparent from several of the speeches that we have heard tonight. The hon. Lady said that we could sort that problem out after tonight's debate, but that will be a bit late. The promoters have made that statement and expect us to vote tonight on the basis of its accuracy. It is certainly inaccurate in respect of paragraph 12.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby made the point that a carry-over is not routine, but a privilege. I submit that special circumstances are needed to justify a carry-over.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I understand that no vote was held at the meeting on 25 July, so while the hon Gentleman's colleague may have dissented, there was no formal procedure by which that dissent could have been recorded.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

Notwithstanding what the hon. Lady says, I am sure that if the councillor in question dissented, it is inaccurate to suggest that she supports the Bill. The fact that no formal vote was held does not mean that everyone supported it, especially as one councillor spoke against it. I am not sure that the hon. Lady's intervention alters the principle.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

Given the suggestion that the Bill passed its Second Reading because of misinformation about the support of the unions and the number of hon. Members who support it, it is especially important that we are provided with accurate information. Is the hon. Gentleman disturbed that a letter from the chairman states that it has all-party support when—however it is expressed—it patently has not?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I think that he is supporting the point that I have made, and I am grateful to him for that.

In order to justify a carry-over, there must be a set of special circumstances. Obviously, we as hon. Members take into account a number of different circumstances: for example, how far a Bill has already progressed. If we were having a carry-over motion debate when the Bill had almost finished its Committee stage or was well into Report stage, the arguments in favour of carrying it over would be much stronger. The Bill has merely had a Second Reading; the rest of the procedure has yet to be completed. That is the first relevant consideration.

The second issue that is relevant is the extent to which the Bill is controversial. I do not think that anyone can dispute that it is an extremely controversial Bill. Labour and Conservative Members oppose it; I am not sure whether any Liberal Democrats do so. It is opposed by a number of trade unions and councillors. It is highly contentious in Merseyside.

The third issue that is relevant to whether we support the carry-over motion was raised by Mr. Field—the extent to which the promoters have taken on board the criticisms made on Second Reading. I was disturbed when he said that he had not been able to get any clear indication from the promoters of whether they were going to meet in whole or in part the concerns that were expressed by hon. Members on Second Reading.

Mr. Howarth, who is not in his place at the moment, said that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead was arguing for Trotskyite permanent revolution. I do not think that he was asking for that. He was saying that, in the context of the pressure on parliamentary time, it is relevant for hon. Members to take into account the extent to which the promoters are prepared to compromise and to remove from the Bill those powers that are causing the most controversy.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the appropriate time for further consultation and a response is in Committee?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

If we were not at the end of the Session, considering whether the Bill in its present form should be carried through to Committee, the hon. Gentleman's point would be valid, but if the carry-over motion is not passed this evening the promoters will have to go back to the drawing board, and I suspect that they will come back with a Bill that is much more in line with the consensus that can be achieved on it, particularly on the issue of whether surplus toll income should be used to cross-subsidise other activities.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for some considerable time and must have sat through many occasions rather similar to this, on which private Bills sought to have the right to carry on. Will not he bear it in mind that this is not a private company with a very large income? In effect, it is the taxpayers of Merseyside, who have been asked whether they wish to recommence or to continue with an existing Bill that has a direct effect both on ratepayers and those who are responsible for providing a proper transport system.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

The hon. Lady makes an important point. My experience goes back to a Bill that was promoted by Southampton city council, called the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill. She may remember it. I advised the council strongly that if it proceeded with a Bill that did not enjoy the support of local Members of Parliament, let alone the people of Southampton, it had a very poor prospect of success. An enormous sum was spent, but that Bill was lost.

I suggest that, if the carry-over motion is not passed, the promoters will introduce a much less controversial Bill and there will be much less scope for amendment on Report. As a result, that Bill could well cost the promoters much less money than the present Bill is likely to cost them. The prospect is that the Bill will go through an extremely prolonged process if it proceeds in the teeth of so much opposition. That will cost the people of Merseyside an enormous amount of money. I suspect that it might be better for the promoters to cut their losses now, return to the drawing board and introduce a simpler and shorter Bill.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Is the hon. Gentleman making the counter-intuitive proposal that two Bills are, in fact, cheaper than one?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I am suggesting that a Bill that passes swiftly is much less expansive than one that takes an enormous amount of time. It must be obvious to the hon. Gentleman that, if the Bill proceeds, it will take an enormous amount of time and cost the promoter an enormous sum because it is so controversial. The most controversial parts of the Bill should be removed and the essential part of it should be allowed to proceed.

In 1995, the then Government issued a consultation paper on estuarial crossings, which included quite strong criticism of the bureaucratic arrangements that relate to setting Mersey tunnel tolls. We have not yet had a Government response to that consultation. I do not know whether the Minister will respond to that paper, which was issued seven years ago, but I hope that the Government will declare their policy because, sadly, we were unable to gain the benefit of the Government's view of the Bill as a result of the way in which the Second Reading debate proceeded.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. The motion states that

Xin the next session the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the present session."

Those of us who had legitimate interests were not even able to express them because of the procedure adopted on Second Reading.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. My point is that a simpler Bill should concentrate on some of the key issues.

One of the other relevant things that we should consider tonight is the extent to which what the promoters seek should be achieved through other means. Paragraph 11 of the promoter's original statement refers to the Transport Act 2000. Under that Act, it is perfectly within the powers of the Merseyside passenger transport authority to set up a charging regime to fund some of the public activities that it wants to fund under its transport plan, but if it did that, it would probably be obliged to charge more than 3 per cent. of Merseyside's population. I understand that that percentage of Merseyside's population uses the tunnels. The Bill proposes charging those travellers, whereas the authority already the power, under the Act, to charge a wider range of car users, if it so wishes, to achieve the public transport benefits that it seeks.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

The hon. Gentleman mentions the fact that only 3 per cent. of the people of Merseyside use the tunnels. Irrespective of whether that figure is correct, does he accept that the proportion of people—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Once again, hon. Members are going wide of the motion and are going more into the Bill's merits.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

There are strong views about the Bill's merits. All I seek to argue is that if the promoter could achieve part of what the Bill seeks to achieve by putting in hand local arrangements using the powers given to it under the Transport Act, the justification for that part of the Bill would be removed, as would the argument in favour of carrying it forward to the next Session.

My final point relates to my previous exchange with the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East. I asked why Mick Rix, the General Secretary of ASLEF, had sent us a letter saying that, if implemented, the proposals would generate an additional #2.5 million in revenue for local public transport per year? Surely the argument that has been put forward is that the debt should be reduced first. The argument of the Bill's promoters and their supporters about the small proportion of people who use the tunnels being burdened with paying for the wider public transport agenda of the passenger transport authority is a relevant issue that we should consider this evening.

I am disappointed that the Bill's promoters have not indicated any willingness to compromise or listen to reason. It is not too late for Mrs. Curtis-Thomas to indicate that they will make amendments in the light of the concerns expressed, but, up to now, they have seemed keen to steamroller this highly controversial Bill through the House. Members have the opportunity tonight to pass judgment on that.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport) 9:22 pm, 23rd October 2002

I want to take this opportunity to make clear the position of the Government.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend Claire Curtis-Thomas on the able way in which she proposed the motion for the Bill to be carried over. I also commend all the other hon. Members who have taken part in this interesting debate. As hon. Members will know, it is traditional that the Government take a neutral stance on private Bills that do not contradict stated Government policy, and that is the approach that the Government intend to take with this Bill. That being said, the Government are not opposed to the Bill being carried over.

The Bill includes a number of provisions. First, it would permit Merseytravel to increase tolls at the tunnels based on a retail prices index formula without having to seek permission from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and to use some of the proceeds from toll revenues for wider transport objectives in Merseyside. That latter point is, of course, broadly in line with the broader options currently available to local authorities through congestion charging. The Government are not, therefore, opposed in principle to Merseytravel's proposals to use some of the additional toll revenue for local transport purposes.

The Bill would permit increases to toll charges in line with the RPI. The Government are not opposed to this principle, especially as the tunnels are owned and operated by a local authority, and, as such, subject to democratic accountability. In addition, the Bill would give Merseytravel the ability to undertake and finance noise insulation work to properties on the Kingsway tunnel approach roads on the Wirral. The Government welcome the introduction of those new powers, as we understand that they respond to long-standing concerns voiced by local residents.

However, the Government are also conscious of the strength of local feeling about allowing Merseytravel to increase tolls by the RPI without any check. My hon. Friend Mr. Chapman has previously expressed concerns about levels of efficiency at the tunnel and about the pressures that higher tolls would place on his constituents. In addition, the Government are concerned that some of the Bill's proposals for using revenue derived from heavy goods vehicles for purposes not related to the costs of the tunnels' construction, maintenance and operation could be seen to be in breach of EU directive 99/62.

The Government's views on this Bill have been brought to the attention of the Committee in a report, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. I am confident that the Committee will fully examine all the objections and concerns raised by the various petitioners.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

So that there is no ambiguity, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that this is not whipped business as far as the Government are concerned?

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Minister of State (Department for Transport)

As I made clear earlier, the Government take a neutral stance. There will be a free vote on the Government side.I do not wish to take further time, as I understand that other Members wish to take part in this time-limited debate.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South 9:25 pm, 23rd October 2002

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister's statement in parts. I certainly welcome the point about the EU directive and the caution about retail prices index increases without check. However, I take slight exception to his point that the passenger transport authority is a local authority with democratic accountability. It is not a local authority and does not have direct democratic accountability. Its members are nominated by councils, but they are not elected and have no democratic accountability.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

My hon. Friend seems to be enunciating an interesting theory for passenger transport executives. The money involved is much more closely monitored—because they are run by local authorities and must produce accurate returns—than it could possibly be if they were private companies. The fact that local authorities nominate to the bodies that control the money does not make the system anti-democratic. The executives make more disclosure of more information simply because they are local authorities. He is getting into a slight difficulty by suggesting that PTEs are not responsible for what they do with public money.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

As my hon. Friend knows, no one could hold her in higher regard than I do, but I absolutely disagree with her on those points. If you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were to permit me, I would elaborate why. However, I am not sure whether you would allow me to do that.

I shall spend as little time as possible in considering the Bill. Like my hon. Friend Mr. Wareing, I believe that we have spent enough time on it already. However, if you were to indulge me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would consider the need for a carry-over motion, and my point applies irrespective of whether it is a private or public Bill. I also want to examine some of the paragraphs in the motion in detail.

If I believe what I read in the Liverpool newspapers, we have been overtaken by events. The press tells me that, notwithstanding the provisions in the Bill for automatic annual increases, Merseytravel now intends to apply to raise tunnel tolls anyhow through the existing public inquiry mechanism. That suggests two things to me, and partly provides a response to my hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody. First, notwithstanding the views of the vast majority of people on Merseyside, the body—which, in my view, has no direct accountability—intends to fly in the face of public opinion whether or not the Bill is carried over. Secondly, the Merseyside passenger transport authority recognises that it already has a mechanism for raising tunnel tolls provided that it can justify them. The Bill asks for something other than that.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that that mechanism exists at the expense of council tax payers on Merseyside. The tunnel tolls have to go into deficit to trigger a public inquiry and that inquiry takes a minimum of 22 months to report. In the interim, a deficit is built up and my hon. Friend's constituents and mine have to pay for it. The Bill seeks to remove that charge on our constituents.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

My point is that Merseytravel should justify any need for increases and not rely merely on the fact that the cost of living has gone up.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman to confine his remarks to the motion rather than to the merits of the charges involved?

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

I was trying to do that. If the Mersey passenger transport authority has a mechanism that it accepts and can use, why do we need a carry-over motion? The House has better things to do than consider the Bill further. We have much legislation to discuss which covers many issues and places demands on our meagre time. The carry-over is not a high priority for my constituents, who do not want it. They would be happier for the House to discuss a host of other issues—the ban on hunting with hounds, the control of leylandii hedges and military action against Iraq, for instance. They would prefer almost anything to be discussed other than the Bill's carry-over. We have limited time at our disposal and much to discuss. We should not be wasting our time on the motion. Sufficient time has been spent on the Bill already.

The motion is simple and clear cut: to carry over or not to carry over. I do not want the Bill to be carried over into the next Session. Instead, I want it to be rejected and to fail because it is foolhardy. I have assiduously studied examples of other carry-over motions. I am not sure that I have the hang of it, but I shall try to stick within the limited scope of the debate. However, I hope you understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, that although we are considering the form of the carry-over, it is difficult not to stray into its substance.

I do not understand why the Bill should be carried over. Although I think that it should not be a private Bill, I contend, as others have, that Merseytravel has not made good use of the time available to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby highlighted various ways in which time was misspent. No one has explained, however, that Merseytravel wasted time by trying to deny a voice to the unions representing tunnel workers and users of the tunnel, and to the employees and business people of Merseyside, all of whom are against the Bill. Rather than listening to their concerns, the passenger transport authority preferred to gag their representatives and continue on its chosen course by proceeding via the Court of Referees. It did not succeed because it had no case, but that did not stop it wasting time and a great deal of money. It is normal for a Bill's promoters to engage parliamentary agents. They are required to do so and there is no problem with that, but the Bill has had more agents employed in its promotion and passage than the people of Merseyside would expect.

I want to examine the motion in detail. Paragraph 6 provides that no further fees will be charged. That must be wrong. The Private Bill Office is funded by the fees paid by the promoters of Bills. Assuming that the Bill passes all its stages, the cost will be #16,000. I do not think that the Private Bill Office can survive for long on that. It is a good deal by anyone's standards.

Let us consider the real cost. How much does it cost for us to be here tonight? I am sure you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that in 2000–01, the operating costs of the Office of the Speaker were #635,000. The department of the Clerk of the House and the Speaker's Counsel cost #20 million; the department of the Serjeant at Arms cost #21.5 million; and the Library cost #7 million.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that we should not have the right to debate private Bills?

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

No, I am just dealing with the idea that no extra fees should be charged, as contained in paragraph 6. Given the costs involved, it is unreasonable that no extra fees should be charged.

If one broke down the costs that I have set out, one would find that the process is costing a great deal. It is unreasonable that no extra fees are to be charged. It is not that Merseytravel does not have the money, and it is not that it shows an unwillingness to spend. Indeed, had Merseytravel been a model of financial rectitude, we might have had to be cautious in seeking more money. You are giving me a particular look, Madam Deputy Speaker, which is telling me not to proceed with that point. Merseytravel is, as it claims in defence of some of its expenditure, a #250 million organisation. It spends profligately and we need to consider the sixth paragraph of the motion.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

Given that my hon. Friend's remarks are straying on to the merits of the Bill, will he identify which costs he would like to cut—perhaps those associated with health and safety or with the police who operate in the tunnel?

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

I was thinking more of the hundreds of thousands of pounds that have been spent on the Bill. I was thinking of the large sums spent on the politically correct but foolish measure of changing all the signs on the tollbooths from Xmanned" to Xstaffed". I was thinking of the fact that Merseytravel is reported to have sent 20 people to a Court of Referees process in which none of them could have taken any part. Merseytravel has an inbuilt propensity to spend because it has a lot of money and because of the structure of the passenger transport authority.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I apologise for not being present at the beginning of what I am sure has been a fascinating odyssey through the whys and wherefores of the Bill. Now I, too, am getting a look from you, Madam Deputy Speaker. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend said that he thought that the number of police officers in the tunnel could be cut. Does he still—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Clearly the look was not sufficient.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

Merseytravel has a propensity to spend because it has money, and it is wholly unreasonable to charge no further fees.

The seventh paragraph of the motion deals with petitions. Reference has been made to a letter from the chairman of Merseytravel which points out that the motion has all-party support. It also refers to the fact that petitions have been submitted by ASLEF, which to the best of my knowledge has no direct connection with the tunnel, and Transport 2000, whose submission was expressed in terms curiously similar to those used by Merseytravel. Those petitions were submitted after the due date, so I hope that they will not be substantially considered at any further stage of our deliberations.

The third paragraph says:

XA declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill presented in this House in the present session".

I have had a nagging doubt about that paragraph since the motion was first announced. In substance, the Bill will, on its reintroduction, remain the same as it has been throughout its parliamentary journey thus far. In its consequences however, it has changed.

I draw attention to the provision that permits Merseytravel to use surplus tunnel tolls income to improve public transport services in Merseyside. I have never liked that. I believe that surpluses should be reinvested to pay off outstanding debts on the tunnels. That relates to the point that my hon. Friend Mrs. Curtis-Thomas made.

Merseytravel now claims that toll increases would fund safety improvements that relate to the European safety report of 2002. We are told that that will cost #14.2 million, to be financed through tunnel tolls. Safety is of paramount importance, and one would have believed that Merseytravel would take account of all safety considerations. However, although the text of the Bill remains the same, its intent appears to have altered. The report on which Merseytravel ultimately chose to act was by no means unanticipated.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In opening the debate, I said nothing about the merits of the Bill because I understood that the discussion covered only procedural matters. I therefore note with regret that my hon. Friend is considering the Bill's merits. I ask for your advice on that.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Throughout my time in the Chair, I have reminded hon. Members of the limited scope of the motion. I urge all hon. Members who have yet to contribute to be mindful of that.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

I believed that I was dealing with the paragraphs of the motion; that was my intention. As I said earlier, there is a danger of straying into the substance of the Bill. That is almost inevitable.

The fifth paragraph states:

XThat in the next session the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the present session, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages".

I shall not repeat the points that my colleagues have made. However, Second Reading was obtained on information that many would have perceived as misinformation. I shall not go into that.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you would consider much of the remainder of my speech to be about the substance of the Bill. I therefore conclude by simply saying that it is my hope, and that of the trade unions, the users of the tunnel and the people of Merseyside that the Bill and the carry-over motion will be rejected. I believe that if the Bill is allowed to proceed, no matter how it is amended, it will be detrimental to the economy of Merseyside, which is already disadvantaged when compared with other regions. The tunnels are the main arteries and conduits of its business. They affect everybody, not only 3 per cent. of people. The carry-over motion should be rejected.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 9:43 pm, 23rd October 2002

I want to concentrate on two principal points in making my case for opposing the motion. First, I want to consider the motion in the context of changing circumstances and, secondly, as a constituency Member of Parliament, I want to present my constituents' best interests.

Earlier, there was confusion in the exchange between Dr. Pugh and me. I want to reinforce my comments that my constituency falls immediately south of the boundaries of Merseyside. It is geographically in Cheshire but does not comprise any of the five authorities that make up the passenger transport authority. That is a function of history, and goes back to the days when the metropolitan county was created and subsequently abolished. It would be wrong to dwell on that.

I simply stress that although my constituency is immediately south of the area covered by the passenger transport authority, many of my constituents use the tunnel. The Bill's sponsor acknowledged that. Bearing that in mind, I find it extraordinary that there is no mechanism in the motion to enable me to put my arguments in the context of the Second Reading debate that would normally have taken place. In fact, that possibility is precluded—

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

It cannot be done in Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows, because the Committee would be a special Committee on which I could not sit. Perhaps he does not understand that about private Bills.

The motion states that

Xin the next session the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the present session" which means that we shall bypass Second Reading. The substantive points that I have before me here—which I shall not stray into, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you would call me to order—cannot, therefore, be made. My constituents are, however, entitled to have their point of view aired on such a controversial matter.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

There is one distinction between the constituencies of the hon. Gentleman, Mrs. Curtis-Thomas and me. They may all contain people who use the tunnel, but if the tunnel incurs any debts or deficits, your constituents will definitely not be liable, whereas mine will.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I am sure that your constituents will be far enough removed not to have an interest in this, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about debts. The hon. Gentleman is tempting me down the road that he followed in his speech. My principal argument about the unfairness of the procedure in terms of my constituents' interests is that I cannot set out the case to answer the hon. Gentleman's valid point and stay in order. Of course he has a valid point. His constituents pay for the debts.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that, if the Bill goes through the special arrangements for a Committee for a private Bill and comes back on Report, amendments can then be tabled? Could those amendments, which might encompass the principles that my hon. Friend is talking about, then be debated?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, provided that the amendments are within the scope of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

That leads me neatly on to my second point, but I shall just complete the point I was making in response to the hon. Member for Southport, who is right to say that his constituents pay for the current deficits through their council tax. My constituents, who are omitted from consideration, pay the fees and are locked into a formula in relation to which they have no rights, despite—if I may remind the Government Front Bench of this—the duty set out in this Administration's best-value legislation. That is why I strongly oppose the central thrust of the motion, which proposes that we should jump over and skip the Second Reading debate.

On that theme, the first sentence of the motion states that

Xthe promoters of the Mersey Tunnels Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with it, if they think fit".

If they think fit? Again, there is no consideration for anyone else—certainly not for my constituents who pay the toll day in and day out. I do not underestimate the seriousness of the problem faced by the passenger transport authority, although I shall not develop that argument now. But the authority must also recognise that other people have rights in this matter. The wording here, though, is, Xif they think fit," not Xafter consultation with relevant people who may also be affected by the Bill". The motion before us does not, therefore, appeal to me one jot.

Of course there are difficult issues. I think many could have been dealt with through a more sophisticated form of negotiation between interested parties throughout the region. There is a sub-regional interest—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. There may well be a sub-regional interest, but it is not appropriate for it to be debated tonight.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I am arguing the case—if I may—that the word Xthey", in the phrase Xthey think fit", is too narrow. I merely suggest that the motion should have incorporated a phrase allowing for consultation with other relevant bodies within the sub-region.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

XThey" are the members of the passenger transport authority, representing nearly half a million people on Merseyside. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that would constitute adequate consultation?

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

It would put the minority at a great disadvantage. My 70,000 constituents also have rights, and I appeal to the House to protect those rights.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

Does my hon. Friend accept that West Lancashire's citizens are in precisely the same position? Although I concede that not quite so many people move through the tunnel from the north of Merseyside to the south, a substantial number do.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

But minorities are not considered in the context of the Bill. If we add all the minorities together, it surely becomes clear that the argument that the great Merseyside interests should take precedence over those of the rest of the people in the greater Merseyside area is grossly unfair.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

My local authority, Bath and North East Somerset council, recently introduced a highly controversial priority access point that has restricted the movement of vehicles through certain parts of the city. No doubt many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents visit Bath from time to time. Does he believe that they should have been consulted about that decision?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Once again we are in danger of wandering wide of the scope of the debate.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I appreciate that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I was going to confine myself to a quip about Bath. Your interventions, however, underline the concern felt by my constituents. We have no opportunity to set out, in a structured way, arguments relating to the Bill, as we would if the Bill were re-presented in the normal way, or—as my hon. Friend Stephen Hesford suggested—if a revival motion were introduced in the new session.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Or a resurrection motion.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I think Xrevival motion" is the appropriate term. I understand that that would, by definition, incorporate stages that are missing as a result of the motion.

I am open to suggestions about solutions to the problems of the passenger transport authority, but I cannot become involved in discussion of that tonight. I strongly urge the House to reconsider its position, and support those of us who oppose the motion.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Between Second Reading and now, has my hon. Friend made any approach to the passenger transport authority to discuss the matters that he has raised?

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

That is interesting because a letter was sent to hon. Members. I accept that my office occasionally makes an error, and so do I, but to the best of my knowledge the letter of 17 October that was sent to all hon. Members was not sent to my office. That letter sets out some important considerations in respect of tonight's proceedings.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, but that was not the question that I asked him. Has he personally made any efforts to contact Merseytravel to raise these concerns?

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

Not since the Bill received its Second Reading as I was unaware of tonight's motion, not having received the letter of 17 October, which was kindly given to me by a colleague. The issue spins both ways. I accept my hon. Friend's point, but there must be negotiations to resolve the problem.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I shall put the same question to him as I put to Mr. O'Brien. Is he likely to suggest to his constituents that they fund some of the expense of running the Mersey tunnel?

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

My hon. Friend, who is also a dear friend, knows full well that my constituents do fund it. They contribute huge sums of money. We heard from the passenger transport authority that non-Merseysiders put in 97 per cent. of the income. I suspect that a lot of that comes from my constituents who are locked into proceedings covered by the tonight's order in which the phrase Xthey think fit" refers entirely to one part of the equation. The other part refers to people who pay tolls on a regular basis and who must also be considered.

Photo of Stephen Hesford Stephen Hesford Labour, Wirral West

Can I run down a hare that has been constantly set running tonight? My hon. Friend Mrs. Dunwoody repeatedly asks my hon. Friend Mr. Miller and others to put it to their constituents that they should pay the deficit. There is no deficit. Does my hon. Friend—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I repeat that we are now getting into the detail of the Bill rather than the motion on the Order Paper.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

That is why I shall not answer my hon. Friend's question, which underlines my point about the unfairness of the procedure that we are considering whereby my constituents, among others, will not have the right to have their point of view aired in this House on such a controversial matter—[Interruption.] Mr. Foster says from a sedentary position that I am doing it, but that could not be the case as I would certainly be ruled out of order.

My second principal reason for opposing the motion relates to changing circumstances. As has already been said, this is the second attempt at a Mersey Tunnels Bill. Changing circumstances were referred to in the Second Reading debate, but they have not been developed fully and the Bill does not cover their full financial implications. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich would no doubt jump up and say that that could be dealt with by amendment. The changing circumstances are referred to in the statement presented by the passenger transport authority. I believe that those changing circumstances, together with the interests of my constituents, cannot be met by amendments to the Bill. I suspect that that would be extremely difficult to achieve. Reference is made to the additional burden that will fall on the authority, stemming from changing fire safety regulations after some tragic tunnel incidents throughout Europe. These substantial changes have altered the way in which the House should view the matter and, on that basis, we need to find an alternate mechanism.

My constituents fully recognise that, one way or another, they will contribute to the costs of the tunnel, and that is right. But the mechanism in the Bill that we are being asked to carry over is wrong and excludes the rights of my constituents.

I would question some of the technical procedures set out in the motion—for example, that

Xon the fifth sitting day in the next session the bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office."

That may well be standard procedure, but given some of the issues about which there ought to be local negotiations, the motion does not give us the kind of time—

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you again confirm, first, that if the Bill proceeds tonight, it is amendable, and secondly, that the procedures for amending the Bill are those that have been used in the past and will be perfectly open to my hon. Friend and others to use?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I am certainly prepared to confirm that that is absolutely right.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East

Can I take it then that my hon. Friend feels so inadequate that he would not feel capable of using the procedures of the House to table suitable amendments?

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

My hon. Friend's sarcasm does not do him any justice; he usually makes far more intelligent comments than that. I have said that the provision would preclude a contribution at Second Reading and because of the costs that—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is repeating some of the arguments that he has already made. Is he able to move on with regard to the motion?

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

My hon. Friend Mr. Chapman referred to the costs involved. Because of those costs, there is a need for sensible negotiations on whether a resolution can be found. That is not possible within the time available to us.

My arguments in summary—[Interruption.] My arguments in summary are that my constituents' rights are being abused by the motion.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I believe that we are here to represent our constituents and I hope that the House will give my constituents their rights when dealing with the matter. My second point concerns the changing circumstances and my third is that, as a result of the need for a sensible way forward, it would be inappropriate to squeeze the time for any potential negotiations on the content of the Bill into the tight time between now and the fifth sitting day.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 65.

Division number 329 Mersey Tunnels Bill

Aye: 162 MPs

No: 63 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 2 MPs

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That the promoters of the Mersey Tunnels Bill shall have leave to suspend proceedings thereon in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next session of Parliament, provided that notice of their intention to do so is lodged in the Private Bill Office not later than the day before the close of the present session and that all fees due up to that date have been paid;

That on the fifth sitting day in the next session the bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office;

That a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill presented in this House in the present session;

That on the next sitting day following presentation, the Clerk in the Private Bill Office shall lay the bill on the Table of the House;

That in the next session the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the present session, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages;

That no further fees shall be charged to such stages;

That all petitions relating to the bill which stand referred to the committee on the bill, shall stand referred to the committee on the bill in the next session;

That no petitioners shall be heard before the committee unless their petition has been presented within the time provided for petitioning or has been deposited pursuant to Private Business Standing Order 126(b);

That, in relation to the bill, Private Business Standing Order 127 shall have effect as if the words Xunder Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against bill)" were omitted.