|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Is my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) aware of a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport dated 4 July, headed "Mersey Tunnels Bill" and signed by Dave Martin, the leader of Sefton council, Marie Rimmer, the leader of St. Helens council, Jim Keight, the leader of Knowsley council, Steve Foulkes, the leader of Wirral council and, last but by no means least, Joe Anderson, the leader of Liverpool Labour group? Does he think that they have suddenly dreamed up the idea of supporting the Bill, or does he think that they may be representing the communities that we are all sent here to represent?
Mr. Chapman: Of course I am aware of that letter. I am also aware of the opponents to the Bill mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). They include the Union of Construction Allied Trades and Technicians, the North West Trade Union Congress, Amicus, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union and the Unison members who work in the tunnels rather than in the Merseytravel office.
Alan Simpson: My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) referred to the interests of the people of Nottingham, South. May I point out that some of us are expatriate scousers by birth
Does my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) accept that the interests of the people of Merseyside are not necessarily expressed by the leaders of the local authorities? Whatever weight he gives to those views, they ought to be set alongside the trade union resolution supported nationally by the TUC, which states:
Mr. Chapman: My hon. Friend has covered the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), but he did not mention the fact that the Automobile Association, the Freight Transport Association and many others also object to the Bill.
Let me list the current scale of tolls, because it is worth considering the effect of the Bill's proposals in that light. A charge of £1.20 each way applies to motor cycles with sidecars; three-wheeled vehicles; private or light goods vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight; and passenger-carrying vehicles with seating capacity for fewer than nine persons. The £2.40 each way charge applies to private or light goods vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight with trailer; heavy goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight, with two axles; and passenger-carrying vehicles with seating capacity for nine or more persons, with three axles. The £3.60 each way charge applies to heavy goods vehicles of more than 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight with three axles; and passenger-carrying vehicles with seating capacity for nine or more persons, with three axles. The £4.80 charge applies to heavy goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes gross vehicle weight with four or more axles.
Thus an ordinary motorist in an ordinary car going through the tunnel once each way pays toll charges of £2.40 a day; that is £12 a week, or £600 a year. That strikes me as quite enough to take out of an ordinary person's pocket simply to get to work, or to get to hospital for cancer treatment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said. The fellow with a sidecar, who pays a similar sum, is similarly taxed. For a goods vehicle of 3.5 tonnes with four or more axles, the daily cost of a single return journey is £9.60 but, for argument's sake, let us say that the same lorry from George Henry Lee goes back and forth four or five times day, making the cost £12,000 per annum. If that calculation is applied to all the lorries going through the tunnel, all the people travelling on business from factory to warehouse, from dock to dock, from shop to wholesaler, and from builder to building site, it can be seen that the proposed increases will have a massive effect on the Merseyside economy, which will not be experienced by the economies of other sub-regions which compete with Merseyside.
Alan Simpson: Will my hon. Friend confirm that the main dock for exporting goods to Northern Ireland is in Birkenhead? For all those companies that export goods from Liverpool to Northern Ireland or southern Ireland, there will be an inevitable additional cost for moving their goods through the tunnel to the port for export. What estimate has been made of the additional costs of an inflation-led increase in charges on the Merseyside economy?
Mr. Chapman: I fear that I cannot provide a figure, but it would be substantial. As I said, the effect is unique to Merseyside. The passenger transport authority has proposed an increase of 10p every three years, but that may not necessarily be the case. The inflation rate in 1980 was 18 per cent.; in 1981, 11.9 per cent.; in 1982, 8.6 per cent.; in 1983, 4.6 per cent.; in 1984, 5 per cent; in 1985, 6.1 per cent.; in 1986, 3.4 per cent.; in 1987, 4.2 per cent.; in 1988, 4.9 per cent.; in 1989, 7.8 per cent.; in 1990, 9.5 per cent.; in 1991, 5.9 per cent.; in 1992, 3.7 per cent.; in 1993, 1.6 per cent; in 1994, 2.4 per cent.; in 1995, 3.5 per cent.; in 1996, 2.4 per cent.; in 1997, 3.1 per cent.; in 1998, 3.4 per cent.; in 1999, 1.5 per cent.; in 2000, 3 per cent.; and in 2001, 1.8 per cent.
Alan Simpson: If the House agreed to the shift from a cost-based increase in charges to an inflation-based increase in charges, and if there were a war in the middle east later this year that resulted in a dramatic increase in oil prices, would not the charge increases applied to people on Merseyside be based on the increase in petrol charges, as well as on an increase in tunnel charges arising not from costs but from external factors unrelated to the tunnel? If so, how on earth would my hon. Friend justify it?
Mr. Chapman: That is entirely the case. We could be faced with massive increases that had nothing to do with the economy of Merseyside or the operation of the tunnels, but which were due to wholly external factors that could have a massively detrimental effect on the Merseyside economy through the provisions of the Bill. It is not a free lunch. One cannot impose increases on the nod; one must justify them. What is proposed is simply a drive to profitability, and in no sense a drive to efficiency. It is about raising money from the tunnels to use for other purposes.
That is not the end of the matter. According to the formula for index-linked rises, if the formula produces a sum that is neither a multiple of 10p nor an amount which, on division by 10, produces a remainder of 5p, it should be rounded to the nearest 10p; and if it is an amount which, on division by 10, produces a remainder of 5p, it should be increased by 5p. That is a balanced provision, but the fact remains that in some years, under just the basic provisions of the Bill, the rounding provisions could result in an automatic inflation-plus increase, quite apart from the circumstances that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) mentioned.
(a) all or any of the tolls fixed by or by virtue of this Act should be increased by more than the increase authorised by subsection (6) of section 91 (Classification of vehicles, level and application of tolls) of this Act, or
(b) any classification of traffic then in force for the purposes of the levying of tolls should be revised".
Before the Bill appeared in its present form, I went to see the MPTA, at its request, to discuss the Bill. I said that one might want to consider a formula-based inflation-minus proposal that had a built-in provision for independent reflection on what was proposed, or a proposal that contained constraints and checks to prevent the free-for-all that is proposed in the Bill, or one that had inputs by users, consultation and appeal mechanisms.
I think that the authority must have failed to understand me. The response that it has given in the Bill is to the effect that it will reflect on the increases before applying them. That is the equivalent of turkeys voting for Christmasit is not likely to happen. The Bill states:
(a) whether it is necessary or appropriate in relation to any or all classes of traffic to exercise its power in subsection (1)(c) above to reduce tolls or to continue to exercise that power (as the case may be); and
(b) if the Authority considers that it is necessary or appropriate to do so, for how long tolls should be reduced or continue to be reduced."