HL Deb 08 June 1973 vol 343 cc293-9

11.34 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)


My Lords, may I make a brief intervention on the Southampton Corporation Bill? First, let me say that 'lave no objection to the general purpose of the Bill, which I understand and sympathise with, but I wish to draw attention to a feature in Clause 15 of the Bill, which provides for the taking of tolls for the new bridge over the Itchen. That is the general purpose of the Bill. Subsection (2) of Clause 5 would give the Corporation power, among other things, to fix tolls having regard to the need to control the composition and flow of the traffic over the bridge so as to avoid causing traffic congestion in areas adjacent to the bridge and so as to preserve the character and amenities of those areas. I want to call attention to this provision because it is one which is unprecedented in our Statute Law. It contains an innovation in traffic control policy; that is to say, it introduces, for the first time, a policy of road pricing in order to restrain traffic. This is, of course, a matter of major importance. I consider that a debate on a Private Bill is not the occasion to argue the merits of such a change of policy, but I think it is sufficient to say that it is a matter of great public interest. Most of the adult population to-day either own cars or ride in them at one time or another; therefore there are very cogent arguments both in favour of such a policy and against it. So far as I am concerned, with some slight acquaintance with traffic engineering, I shall say no more than that I am neutral on the merits.

But the purpose of my intervention, my Lords, is solely on the constitutional point that major changes of national policy should not be introduced in a Private Bill, for the following reasons. First, if they are introduced in this way they deprive Parliament of the proper opportunity to debate the merits of the change and take a considered view and decision which Parliament could do on a Public Bill. Secondly, whatever the merits in a particular Private Bill, as in this one, such a provision creates a precedent which never fails to be embarrassing when it is repeated in some other less suitable Private Bill later on. It is always very difficult to argue against the precedent. I therefore suggest that this argument outweighs any argument which might be advanced in favour of justifying this as an experiment which might help in the evolution of public policy.

The right way, I am sure, is for the Secretary of State for the Environment to introduce a Public Bill, with whatever safeguards he thinks necessary, so that it can be applied in certain places and tried out as he thinks best, with all necessary safeguards. Let me say, finally, that I acknowledge that in another place an Amendment was put into Clause 15 which strengthens the Secretary of State's powers to control the fixing of tolls, but, in my opinion, this does not relieve the Bill of the Constitutional defect to which I have referred. I would therefore ask that when the Select Committee comes to consider this Bill, it will give careful thought to remedying the defect to which I am calling attention.

11.38 a.m.


My Lords, first may I thank the noble Lord Nugent for his characteristic courtesy in advising me of the line he was going to take. I have, of course, reciprocated. I would also say that I have had no contact with the Southampton Corporation or with the motoring associations who have petitioned. I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues on this side of the House. I would also remind the House that what is being considered is not the question of whether there should be tolls. In fact, in paragraph 9 the Petitioners say: In all the circumstances of this case, your petitioners do not object to tolls being the means of paying for the construction and maintenance of this particular bridge. So that is not the issue. The issue is whether or not there should be differential tolls.

The clause in the Bill provides that the Corporation shall have regard to— first, the financial position and future prospects of the bridge scheme; secondly, the need to control the composition and flow of traffic over the bridge so as to avoid causing traffic congestion in areas adjacent to the bridge and so as to preserve the character and amenities of those areas; and thirdly, the question of whether to allow any class of traffic to use the bridge without payment of tolls or on payment of tolls at a reduced rate—

  1. (a) where the grant of any such concession would assist the disabled or aged;
  2. (b) where, in the opinion of the Corporation, the grant of any such concession for a limited period would be desirable in the interests of assisting the establishment of industry or commerce in the city;
  3. (c) where the traffic is of a local character."
We, on this side of the House, feel that this issue could be decided only when the case has been presented in detail by counsel on both sides. The Committee in another place has heard those arguments on both sides, and the Bill has come through with only the slight amendment to which reference has been made. We should like this Bill to ao to the Committee of this House in such a way that the Committee would feel completely uninhibited and would he free to hear the arguments put by both sides. Furthermore. in our view we should not reverse the decision of the Committee of the other place unless there is very strong reason.

11.41 a.m.


My Lords, I should not like to go against anything my noble friend Lord Nugent has said. I must declare an interest in that I have discussed the Bill and its proposals with the officials in my home city. We regard this as essentially a local matter. It is a means to an end, to service a local requirement. The method by which we are to control the use of the bridge is fiscal. It may be a little different, but to local people for whom the service is being provided there is very little difference, in that they already pay to cross the river in motor vehicles. Foot passengers do not pay and are not required to pay under the proposals in the Bill. If there is an element of innovation it is a very minor element and one which essentially concerns those people for whom an amenity problem has arisen over 70 years. This is the culmination of planning. The bridge and the way it is to be used is part of the draft structure plan. The method of controlling traffic is unique and has certain advantages for the local people for whom the service is designed. When the Bill goes before a Committee in your Lordships' House I hope that the Committee will view the Bill and its proposals in that light and not in the light of its being some instrument of great national import from which other people may claim a precedent.

11.43 a.m.


My Lords, as one who is somewhat in loco parentis to the Bill, I thought it would be fairer to the House if I allowed other noble Lords to speak before I tried to answer any points which arose in the debate. I have for the past 50 years lived in Southampton with the problem connected with this bridge and with the Bill. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Nugent for indicating that he has no desire to divide the House on Second Reading and that he is not opposed to the Bill as such. That was evident in the Committee stage in the other place, when people were discussing their anxieties and reservations about the Bill. The noble Lord Lord Nugent speaks as President of the R.A.C.—


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to point out that I am not President of the R.A.C., but I should have told the House that I have an interest, in that I am on the Committee of the R.A.C.


We are both members of the R.A.C., myself a much more humble one. Lord Nugent's point of view was carefully put by representatives of the R.A.C. and the A.A. during the Committee stage in the other place. As a result of the doubts so clearly expressed this morning by Lord Nugent, that Committee reversed the priorities which it had attached to the toll charges, making the first priority of the toll charges to meet the cost of the bridge. I think that amendment made by the Committee was the right one. The Committee also wrote into the Bill an Amendment giving the Secretary of State real control over any toll charges. Any attempt at what is called price fixing is controlled by road pricing in the Bill.

I would emphasise that there is no Government grant towards the financing of this new bridge. When I came to Southampton over 50 years ago there was a floating bridge connecting part of Southampton with the new part, under the Itchen Urban District Council, which had been taken over. It was a private bridge, charging tolls. There were campaigns for 30 to 40 years, in which I took an active part, to free the floating bridge, which was finally achieved in 1948. But Southampton wanted a real bridge connecting the rapidly developing Itchen district of Southampton with Southampton itself. After the war there were campaigns, in which I again took part, both by the Council and by the Members of Parliament, to have a new bridge built across the Itchen. The first bridge that was planned was a wide bridge, part of a vast scheme of road planning in southern Hampshire. It became unimportant from that point of view when the M.27 was built and the whole conception of road strategy in southern Hampshire was changed. That bridge, which was to be a dual carriageway, was to be 75 per cent. financed by the Government. The bridge we are dealing with in the Bill is a narrower bridge and it will be financed by the local authority. Its main purpose—and to the citizens of Southampton practically its only purpose—is to connect Southampton with a vastly expanded new Itchen area.

It is clear from the Report of the Committee in the other place that none of the representations on this point was made by anyone opposed to having such a bridge. All recognised the need for it. All recognised the need for a toll. The main doubts were expressed this morning by the noble Lord. The Corporation feels that whilst the main purpose of raising tolls is to finance the cost of the bridge, it still wants the power to introduce some kind of differential toll if it becomes necessary to control some of the heavy traffic going over a bridge which is primarily concerned with servicing the people of Southampton. I am asked by the Corporation to say that it may well be that road pricing should be the subject of public debate and public legislation in due course. Whatever the position nationally, the lack of a bridge across the Itchen south of Northern Bridge is a special local problem. When it is built, the existence of such a bridge might also cause another local problem to which I referred. The Corporation is firmly of the view that if there is no restraint on the traffic using the bridge, other than the restraint of uncontrolled congestion, the bridge should not be built. The problem is one peculiar to Southampton, and therefore the Corporation has no desire to set a national precedent.

My Lords, when I went across the first free floating bridge in 1948, those of us who are forward-looking in Southampton were already looking to a free bridge. This is the first step towards ultimately a free bridge. This one is to be built within four years. I hope I am not too optimistic about my chance of survival when I say that I look forward to the day when I shall walk across, not a toll bridge but a free bridge over the Itchen. I commend the Bill to your Lordships. I am certain the Committee will take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent has said. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for their help this morning.


My Lords, I am obliged to all the noble Lords who have spoken for their comments on the Bill. I shall draw the attention of the promoters to what has been said. If your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading, as a Petition has been deposited against it it will be referred to a Select Committee. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and all the other noble Lords, that the record of what they have said will also be made available to members of the Select Committee.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Select Committee.