Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 8, line 37, leave out subsection (3).

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 40 I shall, with permission, speak also to Amendments Nos. 115, 142 and 143, which are related to it.

These are technical amendments which amend references to the law on alibi defences in other statutes as a consequence of the repeal of the current provisions by this Bill and their replacement with new provisions linked to the scheme for defence disclosure. The amendments also ensure that the current provisions on alibi defences continue to operate in military proceedings, which are not affected by the disclosure scheme in the Bill. Parliamentary counsel has tidied up the drafting of the Bill by placing all the references to alibi defences together in one new clause at the end of the Bill. As a consequence, they need to be relocated towards the back of the repeals schedule (Schedule 3) and the other amendments seek to achieve this. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the draftsman may have tidied up the wording but he has not tidied up the situation about which I earlier complained. There is a discretion in the judge to waive the alibi notices but

1 Feb 1996 : Column 1610

on a defence statement as presently advised the Government intend that there should not be. Having said that, I will say no more.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 14 [Common law rules as to disclosure]:

[Amendment No. 41 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 9, line 24, leave out ("or").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 43 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendments Nos. 44 and 45:

Page 9, line 26, leave out ("1(2)") and insert ("1(2)(a)").
Page 9, line 26, at end insert--
("(c) the count is included in the indictment (where this Part applies by virtue of section 1(2)(b)), or
(d) the bill of indictment is preferred (where this Part applies by virtue of section 1(2)(c)).").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Humber Bridge (Debts) Bill

7.5 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill will provide the Secretary of State for Transport with the power, by order, to suspend interest payments and to write off debt for the major part of the Humber Bridge debt that is owed to the Government.

The local authority-promoted Humber Bridge Acts of 1959 and 1971 established the Humber Bridge Board with powers to borrow and to construct the bridge, but there were no powers to write off debts.

In 1969 the Government formally decided that the bridge should be built and in 1971 they agreed to provide loans to finance the construction costs. The bridge did not open until 1981 because of technical problems and industrial disputes.

The cost of financing the construction of the Humber Bridge was a great deal more than the board's estimate in 1970 of £20 million. The opening debt in 1981 was £151 million.

The bridge was built to promote the regeneration of south Humberside, but unfortunately the expected economic growth did not occur. With less traffic and less toll revenue than expected, unpaid interest on loans was capitalised, and the debt rose from £151 million in 1981 to the £439 million by March 1992.

1 Feb 1996 : Column 1611

In 1986 the Government undertook to write off debt which could not be recovered from tolls set at the highest realistic level. After tolls were set at their present levels in August 1989, the board made a case for government financial assistance and undertook to promote a Private Bill to index its tolls.

In July 1991 the Government undertook to legislate for powers to write off and suspend some of the debt. That promise has enabled the Government since February 1992 to meet unpaid interest by annual grants of £40 million under the Appropriation Acts. That temporary expedient halted the increase in the debt, and even slightly reduced it.

We wish to rid local taxpayers of Hull of the threat of having to pay over £200 a year each to meet the current deficits, but we do not rule out precepting. It is the board's responsibility to decide on whether to use precepting or further to increase tolls.

In using the Bill, we will safeguard national taxpayers from any unnecessary contributions. We will encourage the bridge board to set and maintain a high but realistic level of tolls. However, we will not prejudice the Secretary of State's role, under the current legislation, of considering toll applications fairly.

How much debt will be written off, and how much will be suspended, will be negotiated with the bridge board using detailed financial projections. Some suspended debt could be reactivated in the future.

It is a great pity that this Bill is needed, but the need for its powers should be indisputable and uncontroversial. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.--(Viscount Goschen.)

Lord Gladwin of Clee: My Lords, I apologise for detaining the House on this issue late at night but the Bill is important for those who live and work on both sides of the River Humber.

The campaign for a river crossing started 100 years ago and between 1850 and 1930 the idea was that there should be a rail crossing and, at some stage, a tunnel, because it was not thought that a road bridge was possible. However, a report that was commissioned by the City of Hull in 1930 stated that a road bridge was possible and the local authority and the Government agreed that a bridge should be built. The Government agreed to pay 75 per cent. of the cost of £1.7 million, which was warmly received by the citizens on both sides of the river. However, in 1931, due to the financial crisis, that proposal was put to one side. Nevertheless the campaign continued.

The first time I remember being taken by my parents across the river was in 1937. That was quite an adventure. We had to get a train from Cleethorpes to New Holland Pier along the south bank of the river, and then wait for the paddle steamer--the ferry--to come. The train journey took 45 minutes. The ferry took either 30 minutes or one hour and 30 minutes, depending on the tides, the weather, the captain and the state of the sandbanks. We did not have a car in those days, but if we had we would have to have gone round the 85 miles

1 Feb 1996 : Column 1612

from Grimsby to Hull in order to go to the pantomime. This stretch of water is in some parts three miles and in other parts one mile across.

I recall that 40 years later little had changed. The same ferries were still running. They are very sturdy vessels. One of them is moored on the Thames not many yards away from this Palace. But there were two significant changes. First, the road bridge that had been talked about for 40 years was under construction, but unfortunately it would be a further four years before it was opened; and, significantly, the new east-west motorways--the M.62, the M.18 and the M.180--linking both north and south Humberside with the national motorway network, were either open or due to be opened within a year or two. They were certainly all open before the bridge was completed in 1981.

The bridge was due to be completed in 1977 but a combination of unusually poor weather conditions, subsidence on the south bank of the river, which created technical problems for its construction, and severe labour relations problems meant that it took nine years to complete rather than the projected four-and-a-half years. As a result, costs increased significantly and the debt burden grew to the figure the Minister stated--£439 million in 1992.

The Government recognised some five years ago that this enormous debt could not be paid either out of toll income or by a precept on the local taxpayers of Hull and two small neighbouring authorities. Since February 1992 help has been given to meet unpaid annual interest charges, but this Bill will enable the Government and the bridge board to agree a long-term solution to the problem.

The present level of tolls on the bridge was fixed in 1989. The board is currently proposing an increase of 32.5 per cent., which would maintain the tolls at 1989 levels. That proposal will go to a public inquiry some time this year. The increase will undoubtedly shut off traffic flow for a short time but it will still be cheaper to go over the bridge than go all the way round via Goole.

I know it is not possible for the Minister to indicate how much of the debt the Government are prepared to write off, but I would urge him not to press the bridge board to push up toll charges to meet this somewhat artificial debt burden. The bridge makes an operating surplus, which this year is estimated at £10 million. Six million vehicles use it every year. The bridge is now part of the national road network. Local people are very proud of the bridge. It is a beautiful and very fine example of British engineering, and overseas orders are won on the strength of Britain's ability to build such structures. Economic development has been influenced by the existence of the bridge. From my own personal knowledge, inward investment on the south bank has happened because of the bridge.

The new unitary authorities of North East Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and the City of Hull, which come into being in April this year, will continue to work together to develop an economic growth policy for the Humber estuary, with the help of the Government's Yorkshire and Humberside regional office. The Humber Bridge is an integral part of that

1 Feb 1996 : Column 1613

policy and nothing should be done which makes the use of the bridge more expensive just to pay off this historical debt. I welcome the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page