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Mr. George Howarth: My hon. Friend has been speaking for 20 minutes but he has reached only the 1930s. Will he give us an idea of the likely proportions of the rest of his speech so that we can pace ourselves?

Mr. Chapman: It is important to set this issue in its historical context, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall move on relatively quickly—

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): To the 1960s.

Mr. Chapman: Yes, to modern times.

The people walking through the tunnel in 1934 did so secure in the knowledge that, in the fulness of time, the debt would be paid off and the tunnels would belong to them.

Mr. Wareing: As a matter of interest, my hon. Friend might like to know that I am now the only hon. Member in the House to have walked through the tunnel in 1934, my father having paid a small amount of money to local charities.

Mr. Chapman: I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember the sense of well-being that he felt in the knowledge that, one day, the tunnels would belong to him, to his family and to the rest of the people of Merseyside.

I hesitate to cover all the details that I have before me, but they are relevant. One million bolts tightened the iron lining of the tunnel, and some 140 miles of joints were caulked. Some of the rubble was used to build the nearby Otterspool promenade, which was part of a scheme to reclaim the land along parts of the foreshore of Liverpool and the River Mersey. I make that point because it reinforces the fact that the two sides of the Mersey are wholly interdependent.

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The main tunnel is 40 ft in diameter and carries four lanes of traffic for more than two miles between Liverpool and Birkenhead. The fact that it is only two miles long is relevant, too.

Mr. George Howarth: Why?

Mr. Chapman: My hon. Friend asks why. There are two branches of tunnels. The Birkenhead dock branch, which at one time carried traffic to and from the Birkenhead dock estate, is now closed. The Liverpool dock branch is still in operation for exit traffic into the docks area.

I was going to deal with some of the environmental aspects of the project, but in the light of the haste that people are urging on me, I shall move forward to the 1950s.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I do not want to upstage my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), but he may not be aware of how the tunnel was used by young scallywag kids in the 1950s to access the coastal resorts of the Wirral, by jumping on the backs of wagons, which were very slow-moving in those days.

Mr. Howarth: You're too big for that now, Peter.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Mr. Chapman: During the 1950s, because of the post-war boom in motoring and the expansion of local industry, the need for a second crossing became evident. Detailed studies of cross-river traffic and the flows thereof provided definitive evidence of the need for an additional crossing. The arguments about the form that that crossing should take followed the earlier lines of argument. I shall spare the House the explanation of that, but the matter was investigated at great length and the same conclusion was arrived at. There was to be a second tunnel, and, in 1965, Royal Assent was given for the reconstitution of the Mersey tunnel joint committee. In 1966, work commenced.

The Kingsway tunnel, which was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in June 1971, is a twin-tube tunnel. Each tube has two traffic lanes that are 12 ft wide—compared with the 9 ft width of the lanes in the Queensway tunnel—and slightly under two miles long. The Mersey tunnels are unlike any other estuarial crossing in the country, in that they are situated in the heart of a conurbation. Patronage of the tunnels is predominantly local, but not, of course, completely so. Recent surveys show, for example, that 82 per cent. of tunnel users are Merseyside residents and that the majority of journeys through the tunnels are work oriented.

Current debt relates to the construction of the Wallasey tunnel, costing some £44 million, and the use of borrowing to finance the operating losses incurred between—

Mr. Miller: Will my hon. Friend explain that point? The outstanding debt for 2000–01 is £110 million. The first published figure of which I am aware is for 1968–69, when the outstanding debt was £17.1 million.

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How did the debt reach its high point of £140 million? That is well beyond the difference between income and expenditure.

Mr. Chapman: Absolutely. If my hon. Friend permits me, I shall come to that in a moment.

The use of borrowing to finance the £116 million operating losses incurred between 1968 and 1992 added to the original inherited debt. From my time as Department of Trade and Industry director on Merseyside, I recall that the debt was contributed to by shenanigans during the Militant years, but I have been unable to do the research to confirm or deny that proposition, which may be apocryphal. That was my understanding at the time, but it may not be correct.

Mr. Kilfoyle: On that serious point, my hon. Friend refers to the Militant years, although I hope that I have misheard him. Of course, before the county council was abolished, it was responsible for the tunnel authority. As far as I am aware, the residuary body that took over the Mersey tunnels and the whole transport infrastructure was never, in any shape or form, infected or dominated by Militant Tendency or its influence.

Mr. Chapman: That may be so, but what I have referred to was common currency when I worked in Merseyside. I accept my hon. Friend's point, however.

Deficit funding by borrowing was authorised by legislation, but it continued for far longer than was envisaged and involved much greater amounts due to higher costs and less traffic than was anticipated. According to Merseytravel's website, and there can be no better authority, Merseytravel inherited the tunnels in 1986 with £100 million of debt and operating losses of £10 million per annum. Annual operating costs were £20 million and toll income £10 million.

Tolls increased in 1986 and 1989—I hope that this addresses the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston—but total debt rose to £140 million before Merseytravel raised tolls again in 1992, from 60p to 100p for cars, and was able to balance operating costs and revenue. According to Merseytravel, toll income is £30.6 million and expenditure consists of £11 million operating costs, debt charges of £14 million and refurbishment costs of £5.6 million.

The outstanding debt is, I understand, £106 million, which includes borrowing of £65 million raised in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s at relatively high interest rates. The balance of debt is pooled and it is being repaid with interest at variable rates.

Mr. Pound: Like many west London MPs, I have a passionate interest in seeing the Bill make progress, but I am starting to doubt that I will ever see the light at the end of this particular tunnel. Would it be presumptuous to suggest that my hon. Friend should produce a handsomely blocked booklet containing all these extraordinarily interestingly facts, although he should allow us to read it on another occasion? Might we proceed to the vote some time this decade?

Mr. Chapman: I may take that suggestion up, or at least produce the bound volume for people to read after

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the event. All that I am saying is relevant to the position that we find ourselves in today, and it needs to be said in this debate here and now.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the statutory provisions relating to the levying and revision of tolls for the use of the tunnels, especially so that in future tolls are revised annually with reference to the rate of inflation. The second purpose is to remove the present requirement to reduce tolls once debts arising from construction and operation of the tunnels have been repaid. The third is to allow the authority to use surplus toll income to improve public transport in Merseyside, and the fourth is to allow the authority to undertake and finance noise insulation work to properties adjacent to the Kingsway tunnel approach on the Wirral. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), I can say without fear or favour that I have no problem with the fourth item relating to noise insulation in Wallasey.

Mr. George Howarth: Does my hon. Friend recognise that the powers currently available to the passenger transport authority do not enable it to carry out such work?

Mr. Chapman: I do, of course. I accept that legislation will probably be required for that purpose. However, I do not accept what I regard as pernicious provisions, which outweigh the benefit of the fourth item.

Mr. Kilfoyle: Will my hon. Friend tell us why he is trying to destroy the Bill, rather than to amend it?

Mr. Chapman: I am not trying to destroy anything. I am putting the arguments that I believe should be made. I have made a valid point. I approve of one aspect of the Bill, but not the others. That needs to be said.


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