Examination of Witnesses(Question 240-259)|
Mrs Charles George and Miss Joanna Clayton
Thursday 30 January 2003
240. MR GEORGE: Those are the four purposes identified
in the explanatory memorandum, and the statutory provisions that
will achieve it.
241. Why should there be a private bill? That is
not a problem here. As Recital 7 relates, the purposes of the
Act cannot be affected without the authority of Parliament. There
is simply no other mechanism whereby this can be done. We are
seeking to change the 1980 Act. The only alternative to a private
bill would be general legislation, and there is no indication
that such legislation is forthcoming, nor is it likely to contain
provisions dealing with matters like noise insulation and the
242. So far as the consequences of the Bill are concerned,
I think I can move very fast. There should be the following six
beneficial results. The first is that the financing of the tunnel
for the foreseeable future should be secured without the risk
of recourse to the local authorities. The matter was rather nicely
expressed by the Honourable Member for Southport on the Second
Reading debate, Dr Pugh, who said that there were those who argued
that because there was a current surplus, there was no need for
the Bill. He said: "That remark was a bit like someone who
tries to persuade me not take an umbrella tomorrow because it
did not rain this afternoon. There is nothing in the present system
to inhibit or prevent a loss, but the Bill includes a provision
that leads one to believe that a loss is far less likely."
We would say that that is a very important part of the Bill.
243. Secondly, we believe it will achieve financial
stability while being barely perceived by users, because the ordinary
costs of life go up with the RPI and if tolls also go up with
the RPI, it frankly will not be noticed. Indeed, as Mr Bates will
point out, earnings in recent years have risen far faster than
the RPI, so that will further mask the effect of toll increases.
244. Thirdly, it is a benefit of the Bill that it
gives the Secretary of State that special power to make an upward
revision order in excess of RPI when needed, and I say no more
245. Fourthly, it will serve a transportation function
in maintaining the existing of balanced costs between public and
private means of crossing the Mersey; and I say no more about
that save that that is of manifest benefit to motorists as well
because they will have less congestion in the tunnel.
246. Fifthly, there will be sums of money - initially
quite modest, but likely to grow - available towards the improvement
of public transport. Again on that matter, the Honourable Member
for Southport on the Second Reading debate at column 832 had various
extremely sensible things to say. He concluded by saying: "It
is simply not possible to have integrated transport nationally
but not locally." He held this up as an example of achieving
at the local level what everyone of both parties thought was a
good idea at national level.
247. Sixthly, when the debt is finally paid off many
years hence, there will be public consultation as to whether the
proposed system should continue.
248. Turning to the Filled-up Bill, we have already
looked at most of its provisions. It is at page 133. Here are
a few places where there were some errors in the deposited Bill:
for example the base month was given as 2001 whereas the intention
all along was 1999. Small matters like that have been corrected.
The other matters are all either clarifications or safeguards
that have been introduced. I commend those various amendments
to Honourable Members.
249. Those Honourable Members who have been particularly
conscientious will have seen at page 133 in the proposed section
91(4)(a) a reference to European Directive 1999/62/EC. In due
course, the Honourable Member, Mr Field, may assist the Committee,
along with the Committee Clerks on what I find a rather difficult
measure fully to understand. We have included its provisions in
the bundle at A37, page 240. It is a matter raised in the Petition
and in the Secretary of State's report on the Bill. At A240 one
finds the Directive. It only applies to HGVs that are 12 tonnes
or more. It is at "D" in the top left-hand corner of
page 242. It only applies to about 1 per cent of our total traffic;
but even if it is 1 per cent, one still has to follow the Directive.
250. One then moves to Article 7 on page 243. The
key provision is Article 7, item 9 (page 244) which reads:
"The weighted average tolls shall be related to the costs
of constructing, operating and developing the infrastructure network
251. When you first read that one can understand
what it is saying, it is saying that HGVs of more than 12 tonnes
should not be contributing to a surplus over and above the cost
of constructing, operating and developing. That much is quite
252. Where it becomes a little bit more complicated
is Article 9, item two, on page 244, which says, "neither
shall this directive prevent the Member States from attributing
to environmental protection and the balanced development of transport
network a percentage of the amount of the user charge or the toll
provided this amount is calculated in accordance with Article
7(7) or 7(9)". The Committee is the not concerned with 7(7),
7(9) applies to us. You are constrained on the one hand but there
is an exception, you can spend the money on the balanced development
of transport networks.
253. The important thing is that those who are administering
this Act must have careful regard to the Directive and ensure
that the small, and it will be a small amount of the total surplus,
which comes from the vehicles of more than 12 tonnes is not spent
in a way which contravenes the Directive. We have proposed an
amendment to the Bill which has, I am glad to say, satisfied the
Department, which incorporates an express reference to the Directive.
It may be in due course that the Committee is advised by the House's
lawyers that there is no need for such an expressed reference
because, of course, the Directive binds in any event, and Mr Field
may similarly express the view that it is not necessary. It is
there because the Department expressed concern. Of course the
PTA is well aware of its legal responsibilities and knows it will
have to comply, but if reassurance is needed we are happy there
should be an expressed reference on the face of the Act to that
matter. The committee may find it interesting that the same matter
was raised in the consultation paper in respect of the Dartford
Crossing and the Highways Agency pooh-poohed the whole matter
and responded by saying there was nothing in the point, the committee
will find it a A39, page 270, because all the money was going
to be spent in accordance with the Directive in any event. It
was raised against us by a number of petitioners and by the Department,
we are well aware of the point and we are very happy a safeguard
be introduced to the Act.
254. I now come to the Secretary of State's report.
The honourable members will know it is the custom of the relevant
Department of State effected by a private bill to assist the committee
with a report. That was done in October 2002 at the time
we were hoping to have an earlier committee than we have. The
Report is at A.29, page 130. It may be helpful for the committee
to see what the view of the Department is. The committee is not
bound by the Department's view but it is given to the committee
to assist them.
255. The Secretary of State there says that he is
not opposed to the proposed RPI mechanism, page 130, and that
he is not opposed to proposed hypothecation to public transport
uses as a surplus. He points out that the principle for using
revenue from tolling charging in this way has already been established
under the Transport Act 2000, that being the Act under which the
Dartford Order was made. He also said he has no objection to the
financing of noise insulation works, that is at page 132.
256. He raised two concerns, the first related to
Directive 99/62, that is pages 131 to 132. As I have already indicated
we do not think there is any conflict, in any event we are prepared
to put forward the safeguarding provision. If we transfer any
surpluses in the conflict with the Directive then the PTA will
be judicially reviewable in the normal way. The Secretary of State
wants there to be consultation with the people of Merseyside once
all the debts have been repaid.
257. As the committee knows we have in the Filledup
Bill included a provision requiring such consultation and therefore
we have met that point. It may be that there will be a further
report from the committee but at any rate it is our understanding
that the Department is now satisfied and no further report has
so far been made available.
258. So far as supporters are concerned I simply
mention that there are the five Merseyside districts who are all
supporting the Bill and in the bundle the Committee will find
a petition from Aslef supporting the Bill and a letter from the
RMT supporting the Bill and also a petition from Transport 2000,
that is at A.23, page 99, saying that they believe the Bill is
consistent with Government policy and will bring enormous benefits
to the people of Merseyside.
259. I should also mention on consultation on the
Bill almost half of the respondents favoured index linking, the
hypothecation was unpopular with users but then so was it in the
case of Dartford.