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23 Oct 2002 : Column 368—continued

Mr. Chapman: 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:

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

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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 the Member for Crosby (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.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: 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.

Madam 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.

Mr. Chapman: 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:

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.

9.43 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): 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.

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Earlier, there was confusion in the exchange between the hon. Member for Southport (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—

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): In Committee?

Mr. Miller: 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

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.

Dr. Pugh: There is one distinction between the constituencies of the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Crosby (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.

Mr. Miller: 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.

Mr. George Howarth: 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

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then be tabled? Could those amendments, which might encompass the principles that my hon. Friend is talking about, then be debated?

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

Mr. Miller: 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

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—

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

Mr. Miller: 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.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: 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?

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