HC Deb 09 February 1988 vol 127 cc308-28 11.47 pm
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)

I beg to move, That the draft Precept Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved. As in the case of the other two passenger transport authorities which we have just discussed, Merseyside did not accept the precept limit which was proposed to it by the Secretary of State. Like the other two authorities, it was notified of its proposed limit on 18 December and asked to give its response by 15 January. Although the authority told us by the due deadline that it would be appealing against its precept limit, it did not submit its detailed representations until 22 January. Members of the authority made oral representations to me on 25 January and the authority subsequently submitted further written information.

I am explaining all this as I am aware that the order for the Merseyside passenger transport authority was laid before the House on 4 February, a very short time before this debate. However, I felt it right to give the fullest consideration to the issues which Merseyside had put before us. Some of these were extremely complicated, and the process has inevitably taken some time.

We did in fact, after full consideration, decide to propose a higher precept limit to the authority than that which had been put to it on 18 December. We proposed an increase from 26.5p to 27p. As soon as we heard on 4 February that this increase was not acceptable to the authority, we tabled the order.

As I explained earlier, the maximum precepts were proposed only after several months of discussion on expenditure levels with the authorities. We originally proposed a limit of 26.5p. The new proposed precept limit of 27p will allow Merseyside to spend more than we originally envisaged.

In appealing against its proposed precept limit, the authority made a number of requests, some of which were addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I can briefly summarise them as follows. The authority asked for an increased expenditure allowance for passenger transport over and above what it claimed it could afford with the proposed precept limit of 26.5p. The authority did not specify that this should be achieved through an increase in the precept. It asked instead that the Government should grant certain exclusions from the calculation of its total expenditure for block grant purposes, and thus reduce its grant penalties. It also asked for an extension of the powers to capitalise Mersey tunnel debt until 31 March 1989—the end of the financial year. Both those measures would have meant that extra funds would have been available to the authority.

I turn to the representations that the Merseyside passenger transport authority made — that part of its expenditure in relation to its bus company, ferries and tunnels responsibilities be excluded from total expenditure for the purposes of assessing its block grant entitlement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has considered its representations carefully and fairly and on their merits. He has, however, decided not to grant those exclusions.

I come now to the request by the authority that the power to capitalise Mersey tunnel debt charges should be extended until 31 March 1989 instead of 30 September 1988. For the past few years, the authority has been allowed to capitalise the accumulated interest charges on the debt still remaining from the construction of the tunnels. In other words, instead of paying the charges out of income, the authority has borrowed money to meet them and thus increased the debt still further. This was clearly something that could not be allowed to continue.

My right hon. Friend therefore decided that the power to capitalise the tunnel debt charges should be extended only for the first six months of the next financial year, and that in the next six months debt charges should be met in the normal way. I should point out that, even taking into account these charges, we have been able to propose a precept that reduces the burden on Merseyside ratepayers.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I appreciate the logic of that argument, but why can certain gifts be given to those who run the Humber bridge, yet we cannot have a realistic view of the debts of the Mersey tunnels?

Mr. Mitchell

We are still awaiting firm proposals as to how the authority proposes to deal with the problem. At present, my right hon. Friend sees no need to change his decision on this matter.

The third element of the authority's case is that there was justification for an increased expenditure allowance generally.

Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter), I am sure that the Minister is aware of the importance of the Mersey tunnel crossing to the economy of Merseyside and the somewhat artificial barrier that it creates between Wirral and the other side of the river. In common with many of his right hon. and hon. Friends, he must be aware of the importance of the regeneration of the city of Liverpool, yet the imposition of these charges for the Mersey tunnel on the ratepayers of Merseyside can only add further to the problems of Liverpool. I urge him to talk to his right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport and ask them to look carefully at estuarial crossing policy throughout the country to see whether it can be reflected in the Government's intention to do something positive about the inner-city problems of Liverpool.

Mr. Mitchell

I assure my hon. Friend that we fully recognise the importance of the Mersey tunnel. I understand the implications of what he is saying. However, he has raised a number of points that are outwith the debate, about which I shall write to him.

The Merseyside passenger transport authority submitted an application for special financial assistance, but it did not contain any firm proposals for tackling the problem of accumulated debt. The authority did not specify what assistance it had in mind.

I return to the third element of the authority's case— that there was justification for an increased expenditure allowance generally. Since that cannot be achieved by changes in the block grant arrangement or by extended capitalisation, the only alternative is an increase in precept. After considering extremely carefully all the factors which had been put to us by the authority, we concluded that an increase in precept was justified to enable the authority to spend slightly above the expenditure level as originally redetermined. Although the authority rejected the increased figure of 27p which we proposed, that is the figure which we now seek to impose by order. I believe that it is entirely reasonable. It is still below last year's level of 28.48p, but enough to meet all reasonable needs. For that reason, I commend the order to the House.

11.55 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The Minister has already been savaged by his hon. Friends on the important issue of the Mersey tunnel. I am a little surprised —[Interruption.] Well, the Minister and his hon. Friends on the Front Bench do not think that they have been savaged so I invite those hon. Gentlemen to make sure that they do the job properly in a moment or two.

For Merseyside the issue is serious. The tunnels and the ferry service are both important in transport terms but they are also important — this is where I was a little confused by the Minister's comments—in the context of the order. The drain on finances posed by the ferries—about £3 million a year, which must be provided by the PTA and by the tunnel when the Secretary of State's refusal to extend the power to borrow takes effect in September this year—will have a serious impact on the ability of the PTA to fund everything else that it wants to do. Therefore, the tunnels and the ferries are both involved in the order.

I am a little surprised that the Minister should have been surprised when the PTA in Merseyside rejected the increase of a halfpenny in the precept. In theory, a halfpenny rate would yield £900,000 to the Merseyside PTA. However, of that £900,000, the Government immediately take back £400,000. Therefore, the government had on offer only £500,000. That may be a large sum to individuals, but to the PTA which has an operating budget of £68 million it was grossly inadequate to compensate for the rate of inflation that it had experienced. That is why it was totally unacceptable to the PTA and why the PTA has rejected it.

Merseyside is already to lose about £4 million in block grant back to central Government, which means that there is an effective reduction of about £7 million in the moneys available to the PTA. That will have a dire impact on the ability of the PTA to fund its programmes.

Like two authorities that we discussed in the previous debate, Merseyside has very little flexibility in its decision-making. It has about £10 million in loan charges. That is a committed cost. In fact, it had to incur some of those costs when the Government forced it to set up the present arrangements for passenger transport on Merseyside. Therefore, it is having to pay loan charges on Government-induced debt. It has £6 million-worth of funding for pension schemes. Again, that is committed financing. It has also committed about £50 million to British Rail on the Mersey Rail scheme under the section 20 grant system.

Because of its statutory nature, the notice required to abrogate that agreement will be about 12 months. All that money is committed—certainly in the short run, in this next financial year. That means that the soft money— the margin for manoeuvre—comes down once again to concessionary travel and the authority's ability to subsidise services.

The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) looks amazed by that assertion, but the truth is that the hard decisions must be made in the area of this £25 million.

Mr. Porter

Economic fares.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman does not understand how the fare system operates. It is now under the control of the operators of non-tendered—for services. If they increase fares, the money will go directly into the profits of the operators. If the hon. Member for Wirral, South and his hon. Friends are advocating increased fares on Merseyside, the Minister—and the public on Merseyside — should take note. The policy of Conservative Members representing Merseyside constituencies is one of dearer fares for the travelling public of Liverpool.

Mr. Porter

Bus fares should be economic.

Mr. Lloyd

The services that are not out to tender are already, by definition, economic. They are the ones on which operators are making a profit.

The Conservative Government told us that it was economically fair for local authorities to provide only the subsidies and for operators to put in bids to tender for those services, thereby arriving at the most economically efficient way of funding the subsidised services. The Minister will be interested to learn that he no longer enjoys the confidence of his Back Benchers in these matters. He never had ours; we know what happens.

We know that services get worse. The quality of bus services on Merseyside will get worse, and those, such as schoolchildren, young people and the elderly, who depend on the services, will find that the price of transport will increase—not only because the hon. Member for Wirral, South wants them to, but because the discretionary fare system will be dismantled. If it is not, the alternative will be a weakening of the services that are put out to tender. The infrastructure of the whole transport system on Merseyside will be weakened. That will not affect the more prosperous areas on the Wirral, but it will affect areas in inner Liverpool, such as Ellesmere Port —it is not too far from the seat of the hon. Member for Wirral, South —in which people depend on public transport.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

As the hon. Member who represents the eastern edge of Merseyside, where we have no ferry tunnel and are utterly reliant on bus services, and where the hospitals and factories are a long way from the housing estates, I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that, unless we have an adequate bus service, many people will not be able to visit relatives in hospital or go anywhere else. Without a service that people can afford, they will stagnate in their homes and be left considerably disadvantaged.

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is right. His point about the affordability of services is all-important. The issue is not the market price, but an affordable public transport system for those who need it.

The hon. Member for Wirral, South was prepared to make the case for his vested interest in the ferry service and the tunnel. Is he prepared to justify that in terms of public money, too? We shall, because we recognise the value of public investment in transport and of the crossings over and under the Mersey. Those are important for the regeneration of Merseyside, to which we are committed. We shall not hear that the Minister is, I fear. We shall be interested to hear what promises he makes about these things. We are committed to a decent transport system in St. Helens, in inner Liverpool and in areas in which people depend on the bus and rail services.

I want to press the Minister about the tunnel. The tunnel's annual debt to the PTA is about £10 million. It may be arguable that that should be funded from revenue rather than from capital.

It would also be logical to accept that the present generation on Merseyside has a tunnel that would pay for itself if it were not for the accumulated debt of previous years. That debt is not the capital cost involved, but the accumulated loss that the Government allowed to build up. It is necessary to recognise the importance of that debt.

The Government are prepared to accept that there is a case to be made for writing off the debt on the Humber bridge—some £190 million, which represents two thirds of the total cost. Surely the Government would be prepared to do the same for the Mersey tunnels, which have an outstanding debt of £115 million. That sum would be less of a drain on the public purse than £190 million. I am sure that the hon. Member for Wirral, South does not mind spending public money for his constituents. If the debt was written off, the tunnels would be able to operate on a break-even, or perhaps a profit, basis. That would significantly affect the ability of the PTA to fund all its other services—concessionary fares and other subsidised services.

Mr. Porter

Am I to understand that it is now official Labour policy to write off the debt of the Mersey tunnels? If that is the case, it is extremely strange, because I suggested that to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) before the election and he would not accept it.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman must take up the specific argument about what was or was not said in conversations with my hon. Friend in which I took no part.

If the Humber bridge debt can be written off, we believe that the same can be done for the Mersey tunnels.

Mr. Porter

The listening party.

Mr. Lloyd

That is correct. I wonder what the hon. Gentleman will say about the listening capacity of the Minister—

Mr. Porter

He is a fine man.

Mr. Lloyd

I am sure he is, but is he a listening man? Will he accept the logic of that argument on behalf of Merseyside?

The finances of the PTA must allow it to provide decent transport for the public and especially for the people of Merseyside. We must ensure that we avoid the most vulnerable groups suffering as a result of an increase in concessionary fares and a reduction in the transport needs of the disabled. That will happen if the order goes through and that is why my hon. Friends from Merseyside will no doubt be listening carefully to what Conservative Members say to the Minister.

12.7 am

Mr. Terry Fields (Liverpool, Broadgreen)

I do not wish to detain the House for too long, but I believe that it is important that we put on record our total opposition to the Government's stand on the Merseyside passenger transport authority.

The Government's transport policies have already taken their toll in places such as Merseyside. The deprivation of transport facilities has meant that older people have been unable to leave their houses to travel to friends. Sickness has resulted from redundancies in the Merseyside PTA. The untimely death of Ken Peaney, a Transport and General Workers Union official, whose work involved deregulation and job losses, is a sad loss to the Labour movement on Merseyside.

Tonight's debate is about the maximum precept level as it applies to Merseyside. Today a group of schoolchildren from my constituency went round the House and they discussed the standard of debate in the Chamber. I had to point out to them that, given their monetarist views, the Government are not prepared to listen to the cogent argument. Indeed, they have not listened to the Merseyside PTA, which outlined the on-going problems of the area and on which the Government have, in so many ways, turned their back.

The decisions that have been taken in respect of Merseyside passenger transport authority, irrespective of the debate going on, are grotesquely unfair to the ratepayers of Merseyside, the unemployed, the poor and the needy and will mean that Merseysiders will pay almost double for the services they receive in the future.

The timetable of discussion and consultation referred to by the Secretary of State included the settlement on 4 February of the requests from Merseyside. Included in the letter to the Merseyside authority, indicating a precept level of 27p rather than 26.5p, was a statement that capitalisation on the Mersey tunnels would not be extended further than indicated.

The Secretary of State further stated that no total expenditure exclusion would be granted, which meant no reduction in grant penalties. The notification offered the local authority the opportunity to spend a further £500,000, but such expenditure would result in grant penalties of £400,000 and require ratepayers to pay a further £900,000 to achieve the extra halfpenny precept.

In expressing the views of the authority, I have to say clearly on behalf of Merseysiders that we express considerable concern that the Secretary of State has failed to accept the arguments put forward in the authority's appeal against its proposed determination of the precept for 1988–89 and has decided not to grant the request made for exclusions from grant penalties and extension of capitalisation powers. The authority records that its appeal was designed to obtain an increase in spending capacity on the basis that this could and should have been achievable without any increase in precept. The authority feels unable to agree the increase in the precept proposed by the Secretary of State.

Reference has been made on several occasions to the Humber bridge authority and the Mersey tunnel authority. Massive assistance has been given to the Humber bridge authority. We are not getting into the game of playing one authority off against another; all we are asking for on Merseyside is a fair crack of the whip. The authority finds it ironic that, immediately following its specific and detailed request for Government assistance, it is expected for the first time to require ratepayers to pay £4 million towards the financing of the tunnels because of the capitalisation decision. The authority is concerned that in order to achieve this the ratepayers of Merseyside will be required to find a further £3.6 million because of grant penalties imposed by the Government as a direct consequence of the action.

Additionally, in relation to the cost of the establishment of the bus company, under compulsion of legislation and Government direction, the authority is committed to spend £5 million in 1988–89 which is not recognised for grant purposes and which therefore results in the imposition of grant penalties of £4.5 million. The statutory requirement to operate a ferry service presently costs £2.5 million per annum without grant recognition and with the imposition of further grant penalties.

Young people today think that, on matters affecting working class areas of Liverpool, the Government have a closed mind. The cogent argument put forward by the city of Liverpool has not been responded to, even at this late stage. The Merseyside passenger transport authority, in the final paragraph of a letter to Merseyside hon. Members says: The Authority emphasises that it continues to wish to work with Government. The Authority wants to reduce the precept and this is still possible if it is treated fairly by Government. Good transport effectively run is essential to Merseyside and its hopes for urban regeneration. I have no such illusions about the response we will get from the Government. The decisions taken on Merseyside, as in south Yorkshire and Manchester, were taken with no level of discussion. No argument will influence the Government in their pursuit of monetarist policies, to privatise the services further and cut back on the service needed urgently and desperately in places such as Merseyside. I have no illusions, and I hope that the people of Liverpool will wake up to what the Government are doing in all areas of public service that are currently under attack.

12.14 am
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Earlier this evening we discussed orders affecting west Yorkshire and Manchester. The House has now turned its attention to Merseyside, an area which will be particularly badly hit if this order is agreed. For once, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) and I endorse his comments. Merseyside Members will be united in saying to the Minister that there are special circumstances in Merseyside which ought to be taken into account before the order is agreed.

I spent last Friday morning with officials of the passenger transport authority. They have been abominably treated in a cavalier manner. At noon last Thursday, a letter outlining the Minister's decision was faxed to Liverpool by the Department of Transport. It was sent to "the passenger transport association". The Department could not even get the name right. The letter was sent to the residuary body. The Department could not even get the address right. The letter sought a reply by 4 pm that day, four hours later.

The substance of the letter was that the Government would allow a precept of 27p in the pound, rather than 26.5p in the pound, a variation of 0.5p. With inadequate funds to meet its commitments, the PTA will be forced to make swingeing cuts in services and fares will rise yet again, bus fares having risen by 15 per cent. and rail fares by 40 per cent. last year alone on subsidised services. Last July, the Secretary of State announced that there would be an expenditure level of £58.5 million for the PTA in 1988–89. The authority, without any provision for growth because it had not put forward a budget based on growth, said that it required £71 million and it was subsequently able to try to reduce that to £67.1 million. The Government responded in this order by allowing for only £64.1 million.

The consequence of that shortfall for the greater Liverpool area, where car ownership is lower than anywhere else in England, is appalling. It places at risk the concessionary travel scheme in an area where one in four is over retirement age and the fastest growing group is the over-80s. This will not do. The PTA will simply not have the funds to run the concessionary fares scheme. The hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) shakes his head in disbelief, yet, in its letter to the Minister of 22 January, the PTA states: Reductions of this magnitude of severity would cause serious damage to the bus network and bring into question the ability of the Authority to preserve its Concessionary Travel Scheme. It is not just a question of the concessionary travel scheme. According to the PTA, Sunday services, daytime subsidised services and early morning industrial services will all be at risk. Two thirds of the PTA's commitments to British Rail are committed in advance. The PTA says that the only savings which can be made on rail services are by closing down entire lines. The hon. Member for Wirral, South and I are both concerned, therefore, about the future of the Wirral line. This is especially foolish at a time when the Mersey rail network has been growing successfully and has been attracting more passengers.

If the consequences are dire for passengers, the consequences for ratepayers of this grotesquely unfair settlement are even more serious. Merseyside ratepayers will suffer more than anywhere in Britain because of the way in which the block grant works and because of the way that it affects them. For the first time, local ratepayers will have to find the cost of the Birkenhead and Wallasey tunnels. That will be £4 million for the last half of this fiscal year, but we can double that because the Government, by imposing a £3.6 million penalty, will claw back into central Government coffers almost as much again.

In the full financial year 1989–90, the cost of running the tunnels will be £8 million, which will earn the Government an additional £7 million in penalties—£15 million in total. All that assumes a lop increase in the toll cost of cars going through the tunnels and a 60p increase to £1.80 for heavy goods vehicles. If that is the Government's idea of reviving the economy and making it easier for commerce to prosper, they will have to do better than that.

The Government are to give nothing towards the tunnels. They have promised no aid. They have forced the entire burden on to the ratepayers. The Government then take advantage by imposing grant penalties of £7.5 million a year. Every single rate bill next year in greater Liverpool, whether domestic, commercial or industrial, will be 4.2p in the pound higher than it need be, and in future years it will be 8p more in the pound, just to pay for the tunnels.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) has pointed out to me that the bill for Southport ratepayers alone will be £500,000 a year more.

Mr. Bermingham

Is it not a little ironic and unfair that if a road is constructed from Brighton to Bournemouth it will be absolutely free to ratepayers but that if a tunnel is constructed across the Mersey it will be a burden on Merseyside ratepayers?

Mr. Alton

It is very unfair. The Government's solution will probably be to impose tolls on new roads that are constructed between Bournemouth and Eastbourne as well as ensuring the continuance of tolls on the Mersey tunnel.

Last summer the Department of Transport said: Ministers will expect ratepayers in Merseyside to meet a fair proportion of the costs of the tunnels from which they benefit. But in nobody's terms can this be regarded as fair. Comparison has already been made with the Humberside area. The Humber bridge cost £280 million, £190 million of which was written off in December. That will save ratepayers in that part of the country £20 million a year. We are not asking for Government handouts; we are asking for equitable, fair and similar treatment.

The Minister has already assured the House that he will look further at this question. I hope that when he takes all these arguments into account he will recognise that the Mersey tunnels ought to be a bridge, not a barrier, to the development of commerce on Merseyside and that they ought to be an integral part of the national road network.

The ferries on Merseyside are also a special case. The passenger transport authority cannot choose whether to operate them; it is bound by law to operate them, yet it receives no grant-related expenditure assessment in respect of the ferries. They are being operated at a deficit of between £2.5 million and £3 million a year. With penalties, that deficit can be doubled. In 1988 it will cost about £5 million to operate the ferries. The ratepayers must find £5 million for the privilege of operating the ferries, half of which is a fine that has been imposed by Whitehall.

Mr. Barry Porter

Has not the historical reason for ferries as a means of commuter transport now gone? As a quid pro quo, ought not my hon. Friend the Minister to consider how to continue to operate the ferries in return for sympathetic treatment of the tunnels?

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The ferries should be seen in the context of the revival of the whole river front. I hope that the inner-city partnership will look on the Mersey ferries as a possible tourist attraction on Merseyside. The river is coming alive again. It would be tragic if the ferries had to close. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Another special factor that should be taken into account is that, when the PTS was established, 2,000 employees were shed by the local PTA, yet the Department of Transport recognises only half of those employees for grant purposes. They cost our local PTA far more than any other PTA that we have been considering—a total of about £6 million extra in pension costs, and half that sum attracts penalties.

As for Liverpool airport, in a letter of 22 January from the PTA to the Department of Transport it was estimated that the authority may have to find £2.5 million this year to subsidise the airport, because of the penalties involved. I hope that the Minister will say something about the effects on the airport and its future.

The final special factor on which I should like the Minister to say a word or two is the original cost of establishing the PTA on Merseyside—about £8 million. That money had to be borrowed, and it is now costing the PTA £1.2 million in loan repayments each year.

Before 1985, none of those factors existed as a direct burden on Merseyside ratepayers. They are a direct consequence of the Transport Act 1985. In all, the Government should disregard about £10 million of expenditure for penalty purposes. If they did that, it would reduce the precept burden on ratepayers by about 5.5p in the pound.

The views that I have advanced are supported by all political parties in the conurbation. Tonight's order must be seen as part of a pattern, yet there are special circumstances on Merseyside. Nationally, expenditure this year on roads will increase by about 13.2 per cent. In contrast, investment in public transport will decline. More resources will be expected to be found from increased fares. Fares on railways will increase by about 6 per cent. and on coaches and buses by about 7 per cent.

Since the Transport Act 1985, the passenger has become a second-class citizen and public transport has had Cinderella status. The Government have made Beeching's Act look like a blunt knife. For the 60 per cent. who rely on public transport, the Government's policies have been a disaster. Orders such as these make public transport in some parts of the country an endangered species; in other parts of the country, it is already extinct, thanks to the 1985 Act. It is for those reasons that the Liberals and their friends will resist the orders.

12.28 am
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

A sound case had been advanced tonight. On one matter—the Mersey tunnel — there is consensus across the Benches and between the parties, of which the Minister would do well to take note. There is a rainbow coalition, which would do justice to my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), in operation tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) and for Crosby (Mr. Thornton) are all in agreement on that point. It is clear that we are not making cheap party political points; we are making a serious point about a matter of great concern to the people of Merseyside.

The Minister should explain to the House—people on Merseyside are anxious to know about this—how he can argue that the £7 million that the PTA believes it needs to operate services effectively will not cut into concessionary services. Merseyside PTA is clear that the victims of the order will be those who use early-morning, late-night and weekend bus services. Let us examine each of those in turn.

A change in early-morning bus services must have an impact on the economy. By and large, people use early-morning buses as a means of travelling to work. If we genuinely seek a revival of the Merseyside economy—we might disagree about how it should take place, but it is to be hoped that we all agree that it should happen—how do the Government suppose that people who have no transport will make their journey to work early in the morning?

The view on the Government Benches seems to be that the only people who would use late-night services are those whom we would rather not talk about in the Chamber, but often people have genuine reasons for using transport late at night. Hospital workers and many others often need public transport late at night. It is an inevitable consequence of the order that late-night services will be hit.

Weekend journeys will also suffer. That will affect people who want to keep in contact with their families and who want to make hospital visits. Merseyside PTA has voiced genuine fears about those services, as have the people of Merseyside. We want the Minister to try to allay those fears. The order is a concoction which does not square with reality or with the views of the passenger transport authority.

The tunnel, the ferries and other aspects have already been well aired and I will not detain the House by going over those arguments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) pointed out, the net effect of the order will be that the very people that public transport should serve—those with few resources, the disabled and the elderly—will suffer. It is outrageous that even this Government should contemplate measures which would have that effect. It is yet another example of the Government disregarding totally the needs of the people on Merseyside and imposing dogmatic principles.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill touched on one worrying aspect — the fact that about 50 per cent. of the people on Merseyside do not have access to motor cars. Those 50 per cent., who are probably among the most vulnerable and poorest sections of the community, are likely to be hit hardest by the effects of the order. It is a despicable order. I hope that the debate will achieve a change of heart. Hon. Members who represent Merseyside agree on certain parts of the order. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give further thought to it, because it has caused great concern on Merseyside.

12.32 am
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Unlike the other two passenger transport authorities which have already been debated tonight, Merseyside PTA has special considerations in its budgeting, because it is the only authority which is responsible for a major arterial tunnel and for an airport—indeed, it is the only airport which is run by a passenger transport authority— and it is the only authority which has had to manage a ferry service regulated by statute. There are major differences between Merseyside and the other authorities that we have been debating.

The people of Merseyside are always willing to pay for services, whether through the rates, fares or other charges, but they object to paying money which has been hard earned or hard come by. On Merseyside, 25 per cent. of the people subsist on social security benefits, but they object to money being paid out as penalties for grants on services that are never made.

The Mersey tunnel has never been grant-aided, yet tunnel income is expected to cover amounts that the Government decree when they determine grant penalty. The Minister passes off quickly the question of capitalisation, but that has been required of the Mersey tunnel joint committee in the past and of the existing local PTA set up by the Government in the recent past. Why cannot capitalisation powers be extended at least until the end of this financial year?

It has been remarked that there is unity on this matter between Merseyside Members, irrespective of party. I am glad that the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) is present, because he is among those hon. Members who have pressed for the abolition of tunnel tolls. He will notice that, in stark contrast to the way in which the Government have treated the Humber bridge, and indeed the Channel tunnel, there has been no attempt to take away this burden from the Merseyside economy. The Mersey tunnel is as essential to the economy of Merseyside and the north-west of England as the Channel tunnel will be to the south-east or the London area. Consideration should be given to the all-party pressure to end this imposition on the people and economy of Merseyside.

The Mersey ferries have never been grant-aided, yet they cost more than £2.5 million a year to maintain. Despite the fact that there are no grants in relation to them, there is no protection from block grant penalties, which will be no less than £2.4 million for the financial year 1988–89.

The Mersey ferries have to continue operating because the authority is bound by statute to provide the service. The company is also bound as to how the ferry is run, including manning levels. The Department of Transport is the responsible Department for determining safety and safety measures on the ferries. The ferries still have a vital part to play, although they might perhaps decrease as a major form of transport. The ferries are one of the facets being used by the Merseyside tourist board to attract and generate income to the Merseyside economy. They are an income-generating facility for the people of Merseyside as well as for those who can enjoy the many benefits of Merseyside. We have much to be proud of, despite the impoverishment of many of our areas, largely due to the Government's economic policies.

Reference to manning levels should remind us that, as a result of the Transport Act 1985, there have been 2,000 staff cuts in the passenger transport undertaking because of deregulation. The local passenger transport authority, in its endeavours to cushion its staff against the rigours of unemployment, has introduced an early retirement scheme. The pension costs of that scheme are £2 million during 1987–88 and next year they will be £2.4 million. All this has been borne on the Merseyside PTE budget; none has come from the superannuation fund.

It has already been mentioned that the MPTE has loan charges of £1.2 million for each of the next 10 years. The reason for that, again, has been the need for working capital by Merseyside Transport Ltd., which was set up only because the Government dictated, through the Transport Act 1985, that it should be set up. Yet, despite that, the local passenger transport authority is faced with a block grant penalty for 1988–89 of £1.1 million. It is utterly ludicrous that any authority in this country should be penalised for expenditure which it does not itself wish to generate, but is forced to generate as a result of Government legislation.

The PTA has said that it needs an increase in expenditure of £4 million, not in order to be rash with taxpayers' money but to temper the scale of reductions in services in an area where we should be expanding services.

This is the Government who talk about an inner-cities policy. This is the Government who pretend that they are going to regenerate the inner cities. This is the Government who, by their policies, forced a 10 per cent. increase in fares as recently as last December.

All the people of Merseyside of all parties must be asking themselves what went wrong after the abolition of the Merseyside county council with its "fares fair" policy. It is rather interesting that the application that has now come from the Merseyside passenger transport authority has the support of representatives of all the political parties on the authority—Conservative, Liberal, Labour and other.

It has to be remembered that we are talking about an area in which 50 per cent. of the population do not own cars. In parts of my constituency, which is an outer suburb of Liverpool, and in parts also of the inner city, 75 per cent. of the people do not have the use of a car. I believe that any Minister of the Crown should look at the social background to the policies that he is introducing and should be willing to give some assistance to areas in real social need.

It would be highly regrettable if, despite all the assurance given by the Minister in the Committee on the Transport Bill — and we were both there — the concessionary fares policy were jeopardised. What we are seeing is precisely the sort of policy that the members of that Committee warned about and feared; and that policy will come about unless there is some concession by the Government to the social needs of people such as those of Merseyside.

It is asking for the moon from this Government, but I hope that the Minister will look at this matter again. If Conservative Members want to see any change in attitude on Merseyside to their Government, they had better start to whip them into line and consider the situation of people such as those whom Opposition Members represent.

12.45 am
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Some years ago I had the privilege of serving on a local authority in south Yorkshire. We began to understand that social mobility had a meaning. My colleagues and I realised that, if we reduced transport costs for the man in the street, we increased social mobility and in turn reduced social dependencey.

I now have the privilege of serving the constituency of St. Helens, which is on the edge of Merseyside. We do not have a bridge, a tunnel or a ferry, but we have problems. For example, we are an area of high unemployment and our people have to move because of the way in which the town is laid out. Because we do not have cars in the numbers that people in other areas have them, we need public transport. We have the bus routes but we do not have the buses because the local PTE does not have the facilities to provide them. Thus, we have the passengers but not the buses.

As I look across the border, which runs beside my constituency, I think it tragic that Cheshire county does not have a tunnel or an airport or the problems of Merseyside because it does not have to fund those items. Yet the Minister expects us to fund everything because of the geographical problems of Merseyside, which is divided by the Mersey. The boundaries are not of our making and we did not construct them. They were established in 1972 following Layfield and the local government legislation which followed.

That gave us Merseyside, with its river across which people must travel. There must be ferries and tunnels, and because we are on the western seaboard, it is important that we have an airport to enable us to compete. All those services cost money and we are expected to impose a levy comparable with areas such as Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire.

The people of St. Helens are expected to pay the price of being part of Merseyside. I do not criticise Merseyside, but this state of affairs is not fair. [Interruption.] The Minister should listen to me rather than talk to the Under-Secretary. One day, the south will learn that it fails at its peril to listen to the north. We in the north are fed up with being the whipping boys of the Government's transport policy. We want our fair share.

It must be nice to live in a shire county where transport is easy and pleasant. When the sick and elderly in my constituency want to visit the hospital on a Sunday afternoon and find there are no buses, what can they do? The trouble is that it is easy to ignore places such as my constituency. We are not a shire county and we do not have the advantages of not being a poverty area.

When we do our arithmetic, let us remember the geographical problems that areas such as St. Helens have. As I say, we have a river which people must cross, and our airport is not the most popular in the world because it is not near a massive industrial conurbation, with all the advantages that Manchester, Birmingham and London have. It has to be paid for.

Perhaps the Minister one day should ask himself a simple question: why should the people who live in St. Helens, on the edge of Cheshire, be disadvantaged because there is a boundary in the way? People living in Cheshire do not have to pay so much to obtain certain rights. When my constituents want to visit their relatives in hospital on a Sunday afternoon, ought they not to have a bus service, and ought not that service to be subsidised? Is that unreasonable?

12.50 am
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I think it right to emphasise that there is a cross-party view about the specific difficulties of the totally unreal county — or geographical unit — of Merseyside, which have been expressed by the hon. Member for St. Helens, North, West, South or wherever he comes from—

Mr. Bermingham


Mr. Porter

—by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham).

It is important to realise and to re-emphasise that public transport on Merseyside involves specific difficulties. They are not general difficulties applying to other transport areas, and I make no apologies for stressing the difficulties of that second tunnel. It is ironic that, when the second tunnel was built, we had almost paid for the first; there is no way in which we can now pay for the second, unless we have entirely unrealistic tolls, whose effect would be that no one would use the tunnel. We would then be unable to pay, and the Government would have to do something about it. They have done something about the Humber. It is about time that they faced up to the fact that it would be cheaper to do something about this problem now than to do it in the future.

I suggest — this would not be terribly popular on Merseyside—that the Government should at least enter into discussion with the authority about the commuter business that the ferries are having to carry. In my view, it is entirely unnecessary. To see Beatles and people playing guitars travelling back and forth is very jolly on the films, but there is room for argument and negotiation.

I also take the point about Liverpool airport. Of course the north-west requires an airport, but surely there is room for negotiation with Manchester, and with the north-west in general, about what sort of facilities we have. At present, we have a tunnel, the ferries, and the airport, all of which are a general imposition on the ratepayers of Merseyside.

I understand the Government's general point of view, but I am no special pleader for Merseyside, and never have been. Many of our troubles are our own fault, but those relating to tonight's order are not, and they present particular and grievous problems.

As a loyal supporter—as always—I shall vote for the order tonight. However, I ask for a recognition in the winding-up speech of problems which are unique, and which deserve special recognition.

12.54 am
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

This has been a fascinating little debate. I had never realised that there was so much in common between my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields), the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter). On many issues, there has been almost complete agreement, right across the spectrum.

Some might argue that this was special pleading on behalf of Merseyside. If it was special pleading, I agree that it was justified for Merseyside has many problems. The hon. Member for Wirral, South has said that he had made no special pleading; it just so happens that Merseyside has unique problems. I do not wish to destroy this nice little coalition. It has all been very friendly, at 12.54 in the morning.

However, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the other passenger transport areas in the country, where rural land and conurbations are mixed up, have particular problems. Conservative Members are prepared to join a coalition for their own areas but are not prepared to recognise our points about the need for integration and for special problems to be dealt with across the board.

The Minister has never given any justification for maximum precept orders of this kind. Why does he think that he knows better than the people on the ground? It is clear that the Members of Parliament for Merseyside accept, if not every line of Merseyside's submission, at least a sufficiently large part of it for its claims to be justified.

It has been calculated that the average ratepayer on Merseyside will save 5p a week as a result of the drop in the precept from 28.5p last year to 27p this year. For that extra 5p a week, we could have alleviated some of the problems that we face. I do not know why the Minister is so rigid in his belief that he and Whitehall know best.

There has been a strong plea for the tolls for the Mersey tunnel to come off. The trouble with the Government is that they do not know what they want to do. There is no consistency. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the Humber bridge. I do not think that the Government felt particularly generous towards the Humber; it was simply that the Humber faced a real financial crisis and unless something was done, the local authorities would have gone bankrupt. Therefore, the Government acted. Such an ad hoc solution does create resentment and lead to charges of inconsistency which, in many cases, are justified.

It is perfectly reasonable for the hon. Member for Wirral, South to ask where the Labour party stands on toll estuarial crossings, whether on tunnels or bridges. No doubt, if he had not done so, the Minister would have. I have made it perfectly clear in all my discussions with the motoring organisations, the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association, that I would be perfectly happy to see tolls disappear tomorrow. The only snag, which I would have made clear, is that I do not want the cost of that to fall on the Department of Transport budget.

There are those who say that they want more and better roads and rail and bus services. If the choice is doing away with the tolls today with the cost falling on the Department of Transport budget, or spending more money on roads, rail or bus services, I know what my choice would be. I would rather have the money to spend on new and improved services. As somebody once said, one cannot spend the same pound twice. However, there is another way of dealing with the matter, as the Select Committee on Transport suggested in the previous Parliament. I cannot remember the detail, but it entailed partly a write-off by the Secretary of State on the Treasury budget and partly the phasing out of the local authority share over a period of years.

The Minister must have some policy on all the toll crossings, and he must try to deal with people fairly. To some extent, he is hoist by his own petard with the Dartford-Thurrock crossing, which will be a toll bridge. He faces problems with leaks concerning the massive expansion of toll facilities on motorways and elsewhere. He will have to resolve that problem quickly.

The Minister rightly pointed out in the earlier debate that section 42 of the Transport Act 1985 permits district authorities to opt out of the PTA system. People are worried that the Department or the Ministry — either inadvertently, because they are not explaining themselves properly, or because they do not understand properly—is encouraging people to opt out. Will the Minister say that he is neutral on this matter and that he is not encouraging people to opt out? I would prefer him to go further and say that he is not neutral, but that he is positively encouraging district authorities to remain in the PTAs.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stick to Merseyside.

Mr. Hughes

That view has been expressed on Merseyside, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Minister has not explained why he is insisting on maximum levels, and I hope that he will do so now.

1.1 am

Mr. David Mitchell

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), as a good Scot, said, "You cannot spend the same pound twice." Throughout the debate it has been clear that his hon. Friends were planning to do exactly that.

Mr. George Howarth

We do not want to spend the same pound twice. The problem is that, with this grant regime, the Government are taking it away twice.

Mr. Mitchell

Perhaps I should not have given way.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said that tunnels are important for inner-city renewal. I agree, but we are not planning to fill them in. To listen to the hon. Gentleman, anyone would think that we were planning to take the Mersey tunnels away.

The hon. Gentleman said that the burden of meeting debt charges was causing serious problems. We have taken into account six months of interest charges. Many observers might say that if the Mersey authority had faced up to the problem over the years it would not be so serious now. The sooner that the authority addresses its mind to the problem, the sooner we shall obtain results. —[Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for St Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) to get excited; I shall return to his contribution in a moment or two.

It is worth noting that the authority's accumulated debt has risen from £39.3 million in 1974 to £90.9 million in 1980. It is paying interest charges on that amount. It has failed to keep pace with toll charges over that period and it took only popular decisions to avoid facing financial reality, but now the chickens have come home to roost.

The hon. Member for Stretford referred to the debt as being only interest payments. Anyone who runs a business on the assumption that one does not have to pay interest on the money that one has borrowed is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

The hon. Member for Stretford said that the Labour party is committed to a decent public transport system. So are we. The difference is that the Labour party is committed to it whatever the burden on ratepayers. We are seeking to obtain better value for money for ratepayers and to maintain a decent system of public transport.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) said that no level of argument would influence the Government. He cannot have listened to the opening speech—[Interruption.] My hon. Friends are right. The hon. Gentleman certainly is not here to listen to the closing speech. The fact is that he did not listen to the opening speech. If he had, he would have known that I had demonstrated that the July expenditure limit was set at £58.5 million, that it was redetermined at £64.1 million, and further redetermined at £64.6 million. It is a total contradiction for the hon. Gentleman to say that we are not listening. We have listened and, as a result, we have acted, giving the increases which are set out in the order.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) referred to reduced funds having particularly severe consequences in an area of low car ownership, but that is simply another way of describing an area which is good bus-operating territory. If there is low car ownership, by its very nature that is an area which is good bus-operating territory.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the only way to secure economies on the rail network is to close a whole line. That is spinning a line which is complete nonsense. The fact is that British Rail has managed to reduce its operating subsidy in the rest of the country by 27 per cent. between 1983–84 and 1986–87. There is no reason why it should not reduce its operating costs in the PTE areas as well. To suggest that the only ways in which those costs can be reduced is by closing a line is scaremongering.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister accept that those points have been made by the PTA, which can hardly be accused of scaremongering because that is the body that is to suffer the effects of the penalties and is to be penalised by the 91p in the pound penalty which must be met? Two thirds of the commitments to British Rail have been guaranteed by contract, which the PTA has no choice but to maintain. Therefore, the only way in which it will he able to do anything, if it has to make reductions, is by entire line closures. It is not scaremongering.

Mr. Mitchell

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that there is a contract which cannot he renegotiated and that it can close a line, which is obviously in breach of the contract. In any case, while the hon. Gentleman is bringing out these various morsels with which I o entertain the House, he has failed to mention the fact that the PTA was planning to carry £5 million of reserves through to next year —[Interruption.] Yes, £5 million. My hon. Friends may well echo that sum. The precept limit assumes that only £3 million of that is drawn down. In addition to the PTA's reserves, the PTE has over £1 million of reserves. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that factor in mind.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), who raised the problem of how people travel to work in the early morning, said that many face real problems in doing so. However, if significant numbers are travelling, as he claims, there may well be sufficient to warrant operating a bus. However, if there are not sufficient for that, it may well be that that a taxibus is appropriate.

The PTE might wish to consider a flexible approach to its tendering documents to encourage people to come forward with smaller vehicles. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is muttering about taxibuses, but I advise him that when small numbers are to be carried, which do not make operating even a minibus viable, it makes sense to operate a taxibus. Moreover, the tender documentation should be drawn up in such a way as to encourage operators of small vehicles to come forward, because that is a more economic way to move small numbers of people. That is much more sensible late at night or in the early morning than sending round a double-decker bus with only six people in it.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) claimed that concessionary fares were at risk, as Opposition Members claim every time we lay an order with precept control before the House. Every time they have told us that concessionary fares will be seriously damaged or abandoned, and every time they have been proved wrong. I am sure the hon. Gentleman who is about to intervene will say the same thing.

Mr. George Howarth

My hon. Friends and I are not saying that; the PTA says that concessionary fares are at risk.

Mr. Mitchell

We are running late, and I do not want to detain the House except to say that the hon. Gentleman's alibi is the same as that used by Opposition Members last year and the year before, and it is as untrue now as it was on those occasions.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North raised the issue of the Humber bridge. When we have realistic proposals for the Mersey tunnels, we shall certainly give them careful consideration. The hon. Gentleman also asked me why we impose a precept. We do so because we have found from experience that that is an effective way of ensuring more economic operation of services, while maintaining the necessary levels of adequate services in an area.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 221, Noes 47.

Division No. 174] [1.11 am
Aitken, Jonathan Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Alexander, Richard Evennett, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Fallon, Michael
Allason, Rupert Favell, Tony
Amess, David Fenner, Dame Peggy
Amos, Alan Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Arbuthnot, James Forman, Nigel
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Forth, Eric
Ashby, David Freeman, Roger
Aspinwall, Jack French, Douglas
Atkins, Robert Garel-Jones, Tristan
Atkinson, David Gill, Christopher
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Glyn, Dr Alan
Baldry, Tony Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Batiste, Spencer Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bendall, Vivian Gorst, John
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Gow, Ian
Blackburn, Dr John G. Gower, Sir Raymond
Body, Sir Richard Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Greenway, John (Rydale)
Boswell, Tim Gregory, Conal
Bottomley, Peter Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Grist, Ian
Bowis, John Ground, Patrick
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Brazier, Julian Hampson, Dr Keith
Bright, Graham Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Harris, David
Budges, Nicholas Hayes, Jerry
Burns, Simon Hayward, Robert
Butcher, John Heathcoat-Amory, David
Butler, Chris Heddle, John
Butterfill, John Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carrington, Matthew Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Carttiss, Michael Hind, Kenneth
Cash, William Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Howard, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Chope, Christopher Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Colvin, Michael Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Conway, Derek Hunter, Andrew
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Irvine, Michael
Cope, John Jack, Michael
Cran, James Janman, Timothy
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jessel, Toby
Curry, David Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Key, Robert
Day, Stephen King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Devlin, Tim Kirkhope, Timothy
Dickens, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Dorrell, Stephen Knowles, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knox, David
Dunn, Bob Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Durant, Tony Lang, Ian
Emery, Sir Peter Latham, Michael
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Rowe, Andrew
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Lilley, Peter Ryder, Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lord, Michael Shaw, David (Dover)
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Maclean, David Shelton, William (Streatham)
McLoughlin, Patrick Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Madel, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Malins, Humfrey Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Mans, Keith Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maples, John Soames, Hon Nicholas
Marland, Paul Speed, Keith
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maude, Hon Francis Squire, Robin
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stanbrook, Ivor
Mellor, David Stanley, Rt Hon John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Stern, Michael
Mills, Iain Stevens, Lewis
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Moate, Roger Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Summerson, Hugo
Moss, Malcolm Tapsell, Sir Peter
Nelson, Anthony Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Neubert, Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Nicholls, Patrick Temple-Morris, Peter
Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Page, Richard Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Paice, James Thurnham, Peter
Patnick, Irvine Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Patten, John (Oxford W) Trotter, Neville
Pawsey, James Twinn, Dr Ian
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Waddington, Rt Hon David
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Waldegrave, Hon William
Porter, David (Waveney) Walden, George
Portillo, Michael Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Powell, William (Corby) Waller, Gary
Raffan, Keith Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Rathbone, Tim Warren, Kenneth
Redwood, John Watts, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wheeler, John
Riddick, Graham Whitney, Ray
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Wiggin, Jerry
Roe, Mrs Marion Wilshire, David
Wolfson, Mark Tellers for the Ayes:
Wood, Timothy Mr. David Lightbown and
Young, Sir George (Acton) Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.
Abbott, Ms Diane Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Alton, David McAvoy, Tom
Ashdown, Paddy McCartney, Ian
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) McFall, John
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Battle, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Bermingham, Gerald Martlew, Eric
Blunkett, David Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Morley, Elliott
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Mowlam, Marjorie
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Murphy, Paul
Cousins, Jim Nellist, Dave
Cryer, Bob O'Brien, William
Cunliffe, Lawrence Pike, Peter
Cunningham, Dr John Reid, John
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Rooker, Jeff
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Skinner, Dennis
Dewar, Donald Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Foster, Derek Turner, Dennis
Fyfe, Mrs Maria Wareing, Robert N.
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Wilson, Brian
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Mr. Ronnie Fearn and
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Mr. James Wallace.
Lewis, Terry

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Precept Limitation (Prescribed Maximum) (Merseyside Passenger Transport Authority) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 4th February, be approved.