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Alan Simpson: Will my hon. Friend confirm that there is a huge difference between an agreement to reflect on the part of the authority and a concrete agreement with the people of Merseyside that once the costs of the tunnel are met, the charges for using it will be reduced? One of those positions is a concrete commitment, but the other is little more than a lick and a promise.

Mr. Chapman: That is absolutely right, and as I said, it is contrary to the overall thrust and purpose of the Bill. As my hon. Friend says, it is unlikely that any such reduction will happen.

Having run speedily through the provisions, I should like to explore some aspects in greater detail. Wirral people and others on Merseyside have to use the tunnels for both business and leisure purposes. They need to do so if they are going to work, whether in insurance, shipping, retail, banking, manufacturing or whatever. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) made a telling point about Clatterbridge centre for oncology, but even if people go to hospitals in the other direction, the same problems would apply. For example, the same would apply in respect of going to

9 Jul 2002 : Column 855

Alder Hey or to Liverpool Women's hospital. Although we have good hospitals on the Wirral, just as Liverpool has good hospitals, people need specialist treatment such as that provided by the centre for oncology, and they have to use the tunnels.

For leisure purposes, whether Merseysiders want to go to nightclubs such as Cream, watch the blues and reds at Goodison and Anfield, listen to music, catch planes or ferries, listen to the opera, watch plays, as we have done, or visit or worship at either of the cathedrals, they need to go through the tunnels. There is no realistic choice. They use them for work, education and leisure.

Mr. O'Hara: Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is an alterative for my constituents if they want to go to Clatterbridge for treatment? The route is as follows: M57, A5300, Runcorn bridge, M56 and M53. That is far faster than being stuck in the centre of Liverpool or Birkenhead.

Mr. Chapman: It is also far less environmentally friendly to travel all those miles only to find oneself on a congested Runcorn bridge halfway through the circuit.

Ian Stewart (Eccles): It is a roundabout way.

Mr. Chapman: It is as my hon. Friend says. So they go for education to Liverpool university and to John Moore's university, to work at Jaguar—

Mr. Miller: It is not a roundabout way. That is part of the importance of the debate about the sub-regional infrastructure. As it happens, my home is equidistant to the centre of Liverpool going by either route. There are merits in considering the regional infrastructure, not just the tunnels.

Mr. O'Hara: It is my constituents' favourite route to Ellesmere Port as well.

Mr. Chapman: People go through the tunnels to the many festivals on both sides of the river, to the Tate and to the splendours of national galleries and museums on Merseyside. They go, as colleagues and I are going to go, to eat in Chinatown and to see the Chinese arch. Then, the money stays on the Liverpool side of the river, as is right and proper. They might go to work in motor vehicle, timber or hi-tech industries. On the other hand, people go through the tunnel to the Wirral for country pursuits, to walk, to visit Port Sunlight, to visit the Williamson art gallery, to see the splendours of the estuary and to watch Tranmere Rovers. They go for bird-watching, to work on Deeside, to climb Moelfamau—for a whole variety of reasons. It is a continuing, permanent heavily flowing artery that is essential to the life of people on Merseyside. Of the tunnel traffic, about 40 per cent. originates in the Wirral, 17 per cent. originates in Liverpool, 15 to 20 per cent. originates in the rest of Merseyside and the balance is from elsewhere. The tunnels are an essential artery for all of us. For people on the Wirral, Liverpool is our sub-regional centre. We have to go there.

The Bill is certain to lead to increasingly higher tolls being imposed on tunnel users, for the following reasons. Merseytravel has admitted that the last 20 per cent.

9 Jul 2002 : Column 856

increase to £1.20 each way, bad though it was, was less than the increase that would have occurred if the retail prices index trigger had been in place since 1992. Moreover, the Bill would provide for increases in excess of inflation. What utility is allowed to increase charges like that? It would think it fantastic were it permitted to do so. Normally the best that is offered is an inflation-minus figure, and that drives efficiency.

This proposal would drive profitability. If, as is argued, the tunnels could be more efficient, the profits could be large. Where would they go, who would account for them, and how would they do so? The people of Merseyside would not experience the future reduction in tolls that they have been promised. Under current legislation, the tunnels' operating surpluses must be used to accelerate the repayment of debt, and once the debt is repaid tolls should be reduced to cover operating and maintenance costs. That promise would be broken were the Bill to become law. The aspirations of 1934 would be dead and gone and the public would feel cheated.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the proposals would do nothing to enhance economic development between Merseyside and Northern Ireland?

Mr. Chapman: The proposals would be detrimental to the economic relations between Merseyside and Northern Ireland, especially because of the new ferry operation that is starting to develop from Birkenhead, which will be a new centre of trade and commerce between our two parts of the United Kingdom. If we were to accept the proposals in the Bill, those areas would be massively damaged by them.

It is unfair to our constituents and their families to impose massive increases in tunnel tolls. As has been pointed out, it is not only the local economy that will be damaged and it is not only local jobs that will be put at risk by the effect on business. We are considering a second-by-second conduit of business and life. The tunnel is crucial to investment and business flow. We cannot afford to allow the toll to fund other schemes or cover inadequate provision for health and safety. Investment would not come to Merseyside—

Mr. Kilfoyle rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 110, Noes 18.

Division No. 299
[10.21 pm


Bailey, Adrian
Barron, Rt Hon Kevin
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Benton, Joe
Berry, Roger
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L
Burnham, Andy
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Carmichael, Alistair
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cotter, Brian
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis–Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Dismore, Andrew
Donohoe, Brian H
Doughty, Sue
Dowd, Jim
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Farrelly, Paul
Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Francis, Dr Hywel
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W)
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Dai
Hermon, Lady
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hume, John
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Kemp, Fraser
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Lamb, Norman
Laxton, Bob
Luke, Iain
McFall, John
McNamara, Kevin
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Mudie, George
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
O'Hara, Edward
Picking, Anne
Pike, Peter
Pollard, Kerry
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr John
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Soley, Clive
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stunell, Andrew
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Thurso, John
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Tyler, Paul
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Ward, Claire
Watson, Tom
Watts, David
Webb, Steve
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and
Mr. George Howarth.


Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Banks, Tony
Chope, Christopher
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Iddon, Dr Brian
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Murrison, Dr Andrew
Pickthall, Colin
Sheridan, Jim
Skinner, Dennis
Spink, Bob
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Tyrie, Andrew
Wareing, Robert N

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Andrew Miller and
Stephen Hesford.

Question accordingly agreed to.

9 Jul 2002 : Column 857

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 105, Noes 22.

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