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23 Oct 2002 : Column 352continued
Mr. Chope: Surely this is an issue not just of consultation, but of whether the promoter responds to the consultation meaningfully. I understand that 67 per cent. of respondents to the earlier consultation did not agree to the cross-subsidy from the tolls being used in the way proposed.
Mr. Miller: It is unusual for me to agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he will note from the proceedings of the court of referees that the promoter sought to dismiss a petition from the Federation of Small Businesses on the grounds that its area of activity was too wide. That underlines what he has been saying.
Mr. O'Brien: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important example. If small business men, of all people, do not see the benefit, I think they must be rightas are my constituents. Not only do they derive jobs from Liverpool, and need to travel there; many of them
Mr. Ben Chapman: As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is the second Mersey Tunnels Bill. Obviously, the legislation has already been through various stages. The hon. Gentleman may also know that, contrary to the assertion of the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), the vast majority of people on Merseysideaccording to any measure I would usedo not support the Bill. The press do not support it, businesses do not support it, users do not support it and the unions do not support it. As far as I can detect, only Merseytravel supports it.
Mr. O'Brien: That has been something of a problem. It is a matter of personal regret to me that I could not take part in earlier deliberations because I was dealing with other parliamentary business or, indeed, other matters generally. Nevertheless, I have followed developments carefully andlike the hon. Gentleman, no doubthave received many representations. Indeed, my fax and e-mail machines seem to have been whirring overactively today, as, no doubt, have his. I have been unable to detect any support for the Bill other than that cited by him.
Mrs. Dunwoody: The hon. Gentleman may wish to make it clear whether, if the Bill falls and there is another period of some years before legislation is brought back to us, he would be prepared to suggest to the voters of Cheshire that they offer a transport subsidy to Merseytravel.
Mr. O'Brien: It would be highly presumptuous of me even to contemplate such an offer without consultation. Especially given the hon. Lady's important and respected role as Chairman of the Transport Committee, I suggest that part of the consultation should involve viewing the tunnels, as a crucial element of the national networkwhich is why I think that the consultation will require a longer process than a carry-over would provide. I respect the hon. Lady, of course, but I do not think she would rapidly join me in urging Cheshire voters to put their hands in their pockets. In any case, I do not think they have had an opportunity to examine the issues.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): Any impartial observer of today's proceedings may well have been entertained, but will not have been particularly well informed. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), entertaining though he was, added nothing whatever to the debate. His first suggestion was that the people of Ireland should be consulted about the Bill. I have been thinking about that and the only Irish connection that I can come up with is that the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) had something of the Parnellites about it, although it was far less successful.
The second suggestion from the hon. Member for Eddisbury was that the employees of Merseytravel should be sent patrolling the highways and byways of the midlands trying to elicit the opinions of drivers of heavy goods vehicles who at some point in their perambulations around these islands may have found their way through the Mersey tunnel. Entertaining though that is, it hardly takes the debate any further.
The substance of the debate is whether or not the Bill, which has received a Second Reading, should be allowed to progress. In effect, that means that it will go into Committee. Every time my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) tries to leave the Chamber, someone refers to her. As she put it in her first intervention in the debate, we are here to decide only whether or not the Bill, which has received a Second Reading, should go into Committee. I do not know why some of my hon. Friends, and seemingly the hon. Member for Eddisbury, have this appalling fear of the Bill being considered in Committee. It would be subject to a particular Committee procedure, not that which would apply to a public Bill. I fail to understand this great fear that something terrible will happen when the Bill goes into Committee. Although I understand that four hon. Members have been appointed to the Committee, I have not taken the trouble to find out who they are. I am sure that they will deal with it sensibly as hon. Members always do when dealing with these matters. It would then return to the House on Report, when there would be ample opportunity to amend it. What is so fearful about that procedure is a matter of mystification.
Mr. Wareing: My hon. Friend mentioned an important point. If this were a public Bill, it would fall at prorogation. Many of us believe that enough time has been given to Mersey tunnel legislation since just after the general election. There is no justification for giving priority to this private Bill, as would be the case were it a public Bill, and I think that it should fall.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Will my hon. Friend also note that the Government are seeking to change the rules of the House so that public Bills can be carried over? Many of us think that that is also an interesting idea.
Mr. Howarth: As I hold my hon. Friend in such regard, I am always open to travel on any road down which she wants to tempt me. However, on this occasion I accept your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will not go in that direction.
The House should allow the Bill to proceed, and we must ask what the consequences will be if we do not. My hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West adopted the novel concept that we should always reject Bills on the grounds that the next time they come back, they will always be better. If we adopted his approach, it would be rather like Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution: if we keep it going long enough, we will eventually reach some kind of perfect constitutional state. That is a fascinating concept. [Interruption.] At this point, my hon. Friend has walked out. I cannot think why. Perhaps he has gone to consult Lenin on what is to be done.
While fascinating, the concept of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West is one that the House should consider with trepidation. If the principle is that the Bill should be constantly rejected because the next one will be better, it means that, round about the year 2050, it might be possible to get a Mersey Tunnels Bill through the House.