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County Of Merseyside Bill

Volume 978: debated on Thursday 14 February 1980

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[ Lords] ( By Order)

As amended, considered.

New Clause 2


In this Part 'industrial building' has the meaning given by section 66 of the Act of 1971 and 'industrial undertaking' has a corresponding meaning.—[ Mr. Goodlad.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

7 pm

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this new clause it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 1, in page 5, line 37, leave out clause 5.

No. 2, in clause 6, page 6, leave out lines 12 to 16.

No. 3, in page 6, line 17, leave out '(c)'.

No. 4, in page 6, leave out lines 20 to 22 and insert—
'(2) In this section "small firm" means an industrial undertaking which has no more than 100 whole-time employees.'

I should like to speak briefly to the amendments in my name. I am persuaded by the argument that Private Bills are not the right way for individual local authorities to seek new powers to assist industry. The resultant proliferation of powers of subsidy would not be in anybody's interests.

If the powers exercised by various local authorities, combined with their financial means, are totally at variance, the regional and other priorities which must be co-ordinated by the Government will be impossible to achieve. If the authorities with the greatest powers, or the longest purses, are for ever upping the ante in a never-ending auction, the changes in regional assistance announced by my right hon. Friend in July of last year, which are designed to concentrate assistance in the areas of most acute need, would be frustrated—as would the outcome of the Government's present review of the assistance given to industry by the public sector and the future role of the local authorities therein. Pending decisions by the Government and this House on these matters, it would be inappropriate if other powers to assist industry were taken in Private Acts. The public interest, as well as the interests of Merseyside, would be damaged.

I hoped that the considerations which gave rise to these amendments would be applied evenhandedly by the House in deciding on powers to assist industry in other Private Bills currently before Parliament. I understand that the relevant Private Bill Committees have already deleted similar provisions from Bills promoted by the Greater London Council, the Isle of Wight county council and the county of Cheshire. I understand that the Committee examining the Greater Manchester Bill is to examine a report proposing similar changes and that at the appropriate time the Committees examining the West Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, Humberside, Derbyshire and County of Kent Bills will do the same.

This series of amendments would delete from part II of the Bill those provisions relating to assistance to industry which are not substantially precedented in existing Acts applying to the area.

New clause 2 seeks to narrow the definition of "industrial" for purposes of part II of the Bill. The definition in the new clause—that contained in section 66 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971—is similar to and a little wider than that used in the existing Private Acts. This means that the types of firms and premises in respect of which assistance could be given under part II of the Bill would be broadly similar to the types that can be assisted under previous private legislation applying to the area. The new clause rectifies a defect in the amendment which tabled earlier, which I withdrew and which failed to define explicitly an "industrial undertaking" in clause 6.

Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 would delete clauses 5 and 6(1)( a) and ( b). Clauses 4 and 6(1)( c), 7 and 8 are unaffected as these are precedented in earlier Private Acts in parts of Merseyside.

Amendment No. 4—the insertion of the definition of "small firm" in clause 6—is a drafting amendment in consequence of the intended deletion of clause 5. It brings forward the definition from the deleted clause.

I ask the House to accept the clause and the amendments.

I wish to speak against the amendments. I do not believe that the case that the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) made justifies the legislation being amended in the way that it is proposed. It was argued by the hon. Gentleman that the powers included in the Bill would give the local authorities in the Merseyside area the power to make grants on interest payable by small firms or money borrowed by them for land for industrial purposes.

It was argued that that power was unnecessary because Government national legislation enables the necessary facility to take place without this local power. It was also suggested that loans should not be allowed to be given by the councils on Merseyside on interest payable by small businesses on money borrowed to provide machinery and equipment for any purpose. It is also suggested in the amendments that grants for the costs of preparing the site of an industrial building, or any land owned or leased by a small firm, should not be allowed.

It is suggested that all these loan restrictions should be placed on local authorities in the Merseyside area because national legislation should take care of these matters. There should not be duplication of what one local authority can provide to attract industry compared with another local authority.

If we were comparing differences between the counties of Cheshire, Essex or Sussex, I should agree with the mover of the amendments. However, if we are comparing local authorities with those in areas such as Merseyside, Tyneside and Clydeside, I must point out that the inner city urban areas have terrific problems, some of which I hope to describe in my speech. If we are talking about those areas, surely even this Government, in their policies for regional investment, have said that there are special cases to be made out for areas such as Merseyside in respect of the incentives that should exist to attract small businesses into these areas. The existing powers in the legislation, which the amendments would destroy, would not have a detrimental effect upon the whole of Merseyside. Merseyside's problems are especially acute. That is why these measures should be kept in the legislation. These provisions, which would allow all the councils in Merseyside to use grants and loans to help small industries and businesses, should be retained in the light of the employment situation on Merseyside. If we consider the Merseyside economy and its history, we understand why these powers and provisions should be retained.

In Liverpool in the early 1970s we saw a continuation of the trend of the previous decade of declining job opportunities in the city. Over the 10 years to 1971, about 75,000 jobs were lost from the city, or 19 per cent. of the local work force. This dramatic decline was halted only temporarily by the national economic boom of 1972–73. Since then the situation has continued to get worse. Between 1971 and 1975, the number of people in employment in Great Britain rose by 3 per cent. while in Liverpool it fell by 5 per cent. The number of people in manufacturing industry in Great Britain fell by 7 per cent. In Liverpool it fell by 10 per cent. The number of people in service industry in Great Britain rose by 10 per cent.; in Liverpool it fell by 10 per cent. The number of people in the construction industry in Great Britain rose by 4 per cent.; in Liverpool, it fell by 12 per cent.

Within the past few months, the Government's declared policy of encouraging the entrepreneur to invest has had no effect on Merseyside. What has happened in Merseyside during that period demonstrates why special powers should be kept for Merseyside even though they are not being provided in other local government Bills.

At Ford's, Halewood, 200 jobs are to be lost, with a reduction of cars in kit form for export. The closure of Meccano, Liverpool was announced on 30 November, with the loss of 930 jobs. In Gandy Frictions Limited, Wallasey, one-third of the employees will lose their jobs in January. The brake shoe manufacturers are suffering from the world recession and the industrial unions have accepted the position. In BOC Chemicals, Brom- borough, 140 workers in all occupations are to be made redundant. In Girling Limited, Bromborough, 450 of the 1,400 work force are to be made redundant. In the Wirral borough council, 87 teaching posts have been earmarked for axing in economy cuts. At BSC Shotton, 900 workers have accepted redundancy terms and will leave in January.

In the Bootle district, the area that I represent, in GEC Distribution Equipment, Gilmoss, 200 redundancies are planned for April 1980. J. W. Pickering & Sons, Bootle, only 18 months after moving to new premises with hopes of expansion, has had to close the ship repairing company because of lack of business, and 40 jobs will be lost. At Ulapalm, in Knowsley, the theft of garments and cash from the factory threatens the future of the factory, which opened in 1978. At present 60 staff are employed and it was planned to employ 130, but those jobs are likely to go. In Rockware Glass, St. Helens, 450 jobs are to be lost next March. In Vanda Limited, Skelmersdale, the American company, Dart International, has decided to sell its cosmetics factory and 140 jobs are threatened unless a buyer can be found. At the CWS, Crewe, 164 workers may be made redundant as it is planned to close the menswear factory. In the British Steel Corporation, Warrington, 700 workers may be made redundant with the proposed closure of the rod and section mills at Bewsey Road. At Twinlock, Crewe, 89 workers have received notice of redundancy. At Heron Motors, Penketh, 42 jobs will be lost because of closure in early 1980. So it goes on.

Many of us who do not live in Merseyside are aware of the decline that has taken place over a long time. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there is no place for a policy that tries to encourage entrepreneurs to get new businesses started? What recipe is he putting forward?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's intervention means that he will vote against the clause. I am suggesting exactly what he suggests in his intervention. The legislation will provide grants and loans to encourage the entrepreneurs that he is talking about.

In addition to the horrific list of jobs lost given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), since the beginning of this year a further 200 jobshave been lost in the CBS Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in my constituency, and also over 400 jobs at Tillotsons. In addition, 680 jobs will disappear on the docks. There is also a question mark over 1,700 jobs at Tate and Lyle.

7.15 pm

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, adding to the list of workers who have been thrown on the scrapheap in Merseyside.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Liverpool there are about 1,600 acres of derelict, dormant and vacant land, of which about 800 or 900 acres are in the hands of nationalised industries and local authorities? Does he agree that if that land could be auctioned and used, new jobs could be created? He has been talking about the decline of Merseyside and Liverpool, but surely he will agree that if nationalised industries were no longer allowed to hoard land, many new jobs could be created.

I wish that I shared the hon. Gentleman's confidence. It is no good having land available for industry if there is no industry to go on to the land. If we are to encourage new small businesses to come to Merseyside, there is plenty of land in the private sector and in the public sector on which they can be sited, and we shall need the powers in the Bill that would be taken out by the clause. The hon. Gentleman, I assume, will be supporting me by voting against the clause.

Let me continue by highlighting the facts that I have been describing in listing the redundancies that have occurred in the past six weeks. In the Merseyside employment service area, 2,876 redundancies were notified in October, compared with 2,680 in 1978 and 1,095 in 1977. The major industries affected are shipbuilding, with 1,000; vehicle manufacture, with 400; timber and furniture, with 318; and glass, with 300. All, with the exception of vehicle manufacture, were within the Merseyside special develment area, which had 2,202 redundancies notified in October compared with 1,575 in 1978 and 816 in 1977. As can be seen, the situation has worsened.

One of the worst aspects of this unemployment, with about 12 per cent. of active males being unemployed in Merseyside, is that many of them are young people. Another disturbing aspect is the long-term unemployment figure, which indicates that in October last year 41.5 per cent. of unemployed males and 24 per cent. of unemployed females had been out of work for more than 52 weeks, compared with 30 per cent. of unemployed males and 17.2 per cent. of unemployed females in Great Britainas a whole. That shows that the situation is much worse in Merseyside and that special powers are necessary in that area, if not elsewhere. In October 1979 the Merseyside metropolitan county had the highest rate of unemployment—11.5 per cent.—of any county in Great Britain.

There are many problems, particularly in relation to the docks, and I return to my constituency to illustrate a problem that is not untypical of many areas in Merseyside. In Bootle there are about 30 people chasing every job vacancy in the area. It cannot be suggested that people are voluntarily unemployed or are unemployed alongside job vacancies that they could take up. The latest Department of Employment statistics show that there are 5,088 people registered as unemployed in Bootle, and during the past month another 160 people joined the town's dole queue.

The Merseyside county council structure plan states:
"Because of the weaknesses in Merseyside's economy, unemployment continues to rise, nearly doubling in the past five years. In June last year more than 81,000 people were out of work, one in every eight of the workforce.
The county has the largest concentration of youth unemployment in Britain: last year the county had nearly as many youngsters out of work as Greater London, which has four and a half times its population.
And those out of work on Merseyside have, on average, been out of work longer that the unemployed of anywhere else in the country.
Jobs will continue to fall, says the report, from 630,000 now to only about 580.000 by 1986. Policies must encourage private firms to invest and take on more."
That is exactly what the clause will prevent. The structure plan continues
"Land has to be provided for industry's needs".
One of the amendments removes the power of local councils to grant loans to help with the interest payable by small businesses on money borrowed to buy land. The plan refers to
"modern factories provided in the city areas".
Of course they should be, and the local authorities should have the power to assist small businesses to do that. It continues:
"factories should be encouraged in the dockland areas, and office development in the urban centres."
In Merseyside, especially in Bootle, the prospects are grim unless action is taken to encourage investment and small businesses. The amendments would have the opposite effect. We must do a great deal more to help small businesses.

I regret that Merseyside is being abandoned to a free market economy. Since the Labour Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) in 1964, there has been a policy to provide incentives for private business to invest in Merseyside. A massive amount o fassistance has been given to small firms. The incentives that have helped small businesses would be destroyed if the amendments were passed.

One of the major problems in Merseyside is that 86 per cent. of all new jobs generated are in firms that do not have their headquarters in the area. Those firms do not exist as an entity in Merseyside but merely establish branches in the area. There is a greater likelihood of branches being closed than of company headquarters being closed. That is why the clauses in the legislation are so important.

A small business that sets up in Merseyside is a headquarters business and not a branch of a massive company that stretches throughout Britain, and possibly overseas. An entrepreneur or business man operating on a large scale would invest and build factories near the centre of communications. He would not invest in Merseyside unless he was encouraged to do so by incentives. It would be more economic for him to place their factories nearer to the markets in which he was trying to sell. That is why many large companies have closed their branches in Merseyside. It is important that there is legislation that enables local authorities to encourage small businesses, which often produce for a local market. If the legislation passes unamended, it will achieve that aim.

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that Merseyside does not enjoy good communications? In trying to promote Merseyside, I would certainly say that it enjoys exceptionally good rail, road, air and sea communications. It is an essential part of our promotion of Merseyside.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who wishes to promote Merseyside. His intervention demonstrates that he intends to oppose the clause.

I was not suggesting that we should sell Merseyside short by telling the outside world that it does not have good communications. However, it is not as near as London is to the markets of the EEC. It does not have the advantages enjoyed by many parts of the South of England in terms of access to the Common Market.

There is no doubt in the minds of those who live inor represent Merseyside that the reasons for its continued decline is its position in Britain, the fact that the port is facing the wrong way, and the fact that many businesses have chosen to invest nearer the centre of the market in which they are trying to sell.

If we have the right Government economic policies and if we allow the provisions in the Bill under which local authorities could encourage small businesses, we could make it viable for industry to invest in the Merseyside area.

In the long term, we must not accept the view that unemployment is here to stay. Structural unemployment is not an acceptable excuse. Before 1970 full employment in Britain was taken for granted. It is only since 1970 that, for the first time since the war, unemployment has increased to a totally unacceptable level. It has affected Merseyside and similar areas more than other parts of the country.

A policy of full employment remains, and will always remain, the policy of the Labour Party. I am sure that it will be the policy of the next Labour Govern- ment. I wish that the Conservative Government would adopt that policy. It does not augur well for the future that a Government-inspired series of amendments would take away from Merseyside powers that would help to solve the unemployment problem.

The obscenity of unemployment must not be underestimated. It is soul-destroying for the school leavers who face the prospect of ongoing unemployment, becoming institutionalised in our employment exchanges and having their spirits destroyed. It will prevent them from living successfully in the real world.

Massive expansion of investment in Merseyside is essential. We should be using the National Enterprise Board instead of destroying it. We should be creating new, publicly owned industries.

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we are not having a general debate on Merseyside; we are discussing the interpretation of the clause. Will the hon. Gentleman please confine his remarks to part II of the Bill?

I shall try to remain as relevant as possible. I am sure that the House will agree that the clauses have to be seen in the context of the present posi-in Merseyside and that the justification for their existence can be argued only in relation to the problems faced by Merseyside. Those problems can be considered only in the context of the economic problems faced by the nation.

I argue strongly that the amendments should be rejected. If hon. Members who represent Merseyside wish to see entrepreneurs invest in the area, and if they wish to see help for small businesses, they will vote against the amendments. In so doing, they will provide Merseyside county council and the district authorities with the necessary powers. I am sure that they will not accept that a general piece of legislation applying to the whole of the country is relevant and sufficient for Merseyside.

The Inner Urban Area Act 1978 gives powers to local authorities to grant loans similar to those provided in the Bill. The legislation applies only to those district council areas where the Minister, through statutory instrument, designates that the powers can be used. There are only two designated districts in Merseyside—Liver- pool and Sefton. Hon. Members representing constituencies that do not fall in those two districts would be even more disadvantaged than the hon. Members representing Liverpool and Sefton. I am sure that they will be voting in the Lobby in order to ensure that this bad series of amendments is defeated. The amendments will virtually destroy what powers the local authorities have to take their own initiatives to help small businesses, and I am sure that every hon. Member representing a Merseyside constituency will vote against them.

7.30 pm

My purpose is to join my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) in supporting the Conservative-controlled county council in its proposals and to resist the amendments that have been suggested by the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad). If I do so in less time than my hon. Friend, it is simply because he referred to many of the problems.

While the list of difficulties mentioned by my hon. Friend is accurate, that is by no means the whole picture of Merseyside. I shall be meeting at least one industrialist tomorrow. He is thinking of coming to Merseyside. Had he read only the earlier part of my hon. Friend's comments—about deprivation, difficulties, dangers and all the disadvantages—he might get the impression that that was Merseyside. He may ask himself "Do I want to leave a prosperous area and come to this?" just as in earlier times people in Wigan and Manchester talked about living in a grey area and expected people from outside to come to such an area.

In spite of all the problems, Merseyside is busy, active, lively, industrious and working extremely hard. It is an attractive proposition for many people, as 99 per cent. of the employers' organisations or the companies themselves will verify. My hon. Friend's picture was completely accurate, but it was only part of the picture.

So far as I can gather, Northwich is not officially, or even unofficially, inside Merseyside. It might well wish to be. We may consider it at some time, but it is definitely in Cheshire. Even though Cheshire now comes to the north side of the Mersey, it is not my idea of what the true boundaries are. A long time ago in this place there was a view that Cheshire Members could decide what they wanted and that other Members could get onwith it; if Merseyside Members wanted what was contained in this type of Bill, they could sort it out for themselves. It was a case of non-intervention. Of course, every Member of Parliament has the right and the duty to scrutinise, but that was a good, practical, day-to-day working rule.

The hon. Member for Northwich has said, as he is entitled to, that the existing provisions will not be good for Merseyside. I do not know how much interest he has taken in the affairs of Merseyside, but he has taken a direct one in this instance. He will be aware that the Bill has probably had more scrutiny, consideration, discussion and argument than any other. This is the Eliza Doolittle of legislation—we have grown accustomed to its face.

The hon. Gentleman must know that four hon. Members—my hon. Friends the Members for Consett (Mr. Watkins) and for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Callaghan) and the hon. Members for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) and for Meriden (Mr. Mills) went through the Bill line by line and clause by clause. Each of them looked at clause 5, to which the hon. Member for Northwich referred, and gave it their approval after the most detailed consideration. If Government legislation were to receive the kind of detailed consideration that this Bill has had, we would save ourselves a great deal of trouble. Has the hon. Member for Northwich considered in any broad outline the evidence submitted to the Committee by Mr. Raymond Francis O'Brien or the treasurer, Mr. Hill? Has he read that? Does he agree with the broad outline? The clause in question was certainly recommended by them.

The arguments adduced by the hon. Gentleman, and those that will probably be adduced by the Under-Secretary of State, are the arguments that were adduced by members of the previous Labour Government when the matter was discussed on Second Reading. I suggested then, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) was Secretary of State for the Environment, that local ratepayers should decide, through their local representatives, how some of their money should be spent. That caused gasps of astonishment from the Labour Government, as it did from Conservative Members. It seems that someone in the Department has managed to hold on to the reins of power irrespective of which Government are in office.

Things are a little different with the hon. Member for Northwich and the Government. They are committed to non-intervention and to a policy of do-it-yourself. They believe that people should sort out their own problems and get on with it. They believe in less Government control, intervention and expenditure. That is predictable. But we are not asking for that. We are not asking for another handout from the Government. We are asking that the county council be allowed to use a little of its money to help local business and endeavour and to get the money back in rates and all the rest.

The money that any county council can provide is minute compared with the money that comes through regional assistance. I hope that the Minister will not argue that the county council proposes to destroy the balance, reason and organisation as well as the whole of the Government's regional aid plan. I hope that he will not suggest that by pouring in millions of pounds the balance will be upset. Not even the Secretary of State has suggested that.

The Bill has been brought forward on a non-party basis. It was prepared by a Labour county council and it is now supported by a Conservative-controlled one. We want to use some of our resources—very small compared with the Government's resources—in a way that will not destroy the balance of Government aid and support between one region and another. We want to sort out our own problems and to get on with it. Let us have the chance.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Marcus Fox): It may assist the House if I intervene at this stage—I am sure that that delights the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) if no one else—to clarify the Government's attitude towards the clauses in part II of the Bill which relate to local authority powers to assist industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) made it clear in the debate on the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill last June that the Government were firmly opposed to any extension of the existing powers of local authorities by way of local Acts. For the reason that he gave on that occasion, the Government reported to Parliament against certain powers in part II of the Bill now before us, and we now support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad).

I can understand very well the desire of all local authorities, especially those in areas such as Merseyside, to do all they can to promote and encourage industrial development in their areas, and there can be no doubt that local authorities can play a vital part by helping to create the sort of environment that will encourage the development of industry. Many authorities, including those on Merseyside, are, I know, aware of the value of adopting planning policies and procedures which will bring rewards in this way, and there is much more that can be done.

We have heard in this debate of the special needs and problems of Merseyside, and I think it is important to put on record that reason for the Government's continued opposition to certain of the clauses in part II of the Bill. It is certainly not the purpose of the Government to deny Merseyside the means to deal with its special circumstances. On the contrary, it is the desire to prevent the undermining of those means already available or proposed which leads us to oppose these provisions.

I have in mind our proposals to bring into operation—

The Minister said that the Government were opposing these provisions. Can he assure the House that there is no Whip on these amendments and that there will be a free vote, because this is a matter which should not divide the parties, and certainly not hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Merseyside area?

The hon. Gentleman must know that I could not possibly rise to that. The Government have the responsibility of getting their business through. Certain proposals are outlined here which we find unacceptable. If the hon. Gentleman listens to the rest of my speech, he will perhaps understand why we feel that these matters are of importance.

I am rather concerned about what the Minister said about getting Government business through. This is not Government business. It is a Bill promoted by the Merseyside county council. Although I am relatively new to the House, I understand that traditionally the Government do not interfere in the kind of way that this Government are interfering with this kind of legislation. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that his hon. Friends who represent Merseyside constituents should vote against the needs of Merseyside because the Government are adopting what seems to be a doctrinal, rigid and uniform policy on local governent powers for the whole of the area, despite Merseyside's difficulty, I find it a disturbing statement.

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right. This is a Private Bill. I intervened to put to the House the feelings of the Government on this issue. There is no way in which Merseyside can be divorced totally from national policies. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen while I mention one or two points which will help to solve the very serious problems of Merseyside, which we all understand, whether or not we represent a constituency there.

I have in mind our proposals to bring into operation an urban development corporation which will concentrate its efforts in revitalising the dockland areas of Merseyside, and I welcome the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Waver tree (Mr. Steen) for that. We propose to increase the concentration of regional industrial assistance which results from our review of the assisted areas last year and under which the major part of the country remains in the highest priority category as a special development area. We recommend the continuing availability of Inner Urban Areas Act powers and urban programme funds to the designated districts in Merseyside. Those measures constitute a substantial attack on the problems of the area and give it a priority consonant with its difficulties.

The powers in the Bill which we are unable to support represent an extension to those powers which are precedented by the existing local Acts which predate local government reorganisation. We have stated clearly that we are opposed to any further proliferation of powers for local authorities to give financial assistance to industry by way of local Acts. The effect of conceding any additional powers in the Bill would undoubtedly create a precedent for future local Bills. It would inevitably make it more difficult to resist the demands of other areas for similar powers. Industrialists would be faced with a chaotic multiplicity of competing schemes of assistance from different local authorities.

Tyne and Wear have those powers, and I hope that the Government are not proposing to take them away.

I am not suggesting that we take those powers from Tyne and Wear, but a precedent was set a long time ago. It is in operation, and we do not intend to change it.

The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that everything did not start with the election of a new Government in May of last year. Many Acts gave certain powers. Those powers end in 1981 or 1984. The hon. Gentleman is right. We are attempting to bring some sense into the system.

As I explained, that would be bound to lead to the wasteful use of limited resources. The end result would be to undermine and dilute the policies which the Government have been pursuing with the express objective of giving priority to the most needy areas. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) and the hon. Member for West Derby have got it wrong. It is because we wish to protect Merseyside's special position that we oppose the policies that they suggest and the clauses that they would presumably support. To support them would lead to a proliferation of local Act powers, which would lessen the edge which Merseyside can at present offer the potential developer.

For those reasons, we support all the amendments—in particular new clause 2—which have been propounded by my hon. Friend the Member for Northwich. They will achieve what is required to restrict part II of the Bill to powers for local authorities, to give financial assistance to industry, which are precedented in the Merseyside area. Apart from those points, I commend the Bill to the House.

7.45 pm

I should like to deal with two of the points made by the Minister. He began by saying that the Government are taking two steps to assist small businesses on Merseyside. They are establishing an urban development corporation, and they are continuing their urban aid programme. If local government had behaved in the manner in which the Front Bench behaved in drawing up proposals for the urban development corporation, the Minister and the Secretary of State would have been castigating local government as being downright irresponsible. Urban development corporations have been set up, but they have been given no budgets for the forthcoming year. We do not know how much money they will have or who are to be their members. Only last week we were told the names of the chairmen and deputy chairmen. It does not give me any confidence to find that the deputy chairman of the new urban development corporation in Merseyside is also the chairman of the Merseyside county council—a point to which I shall return later.

Sir Kenneth Thompson said:

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
There is something to be said for that.

Even though Sir Kenneth Thompson became a convert on the road to the urban development corporation, I am not convinced by those arguments. I am not convinced by the setting up of an organisation that is without a budget and that is in no way accountable to the Liverpool city council or the Merseyside county council, or to Members of Parliament representing the Merseyside area. It is amazing that someone who is a leading critic of and totally opposed to the principle of the urban development corporation should so suddenly be converted to that principle.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the urban development corporation covers only a small part of Merseyside—in fact, areas in only two of its districts, Liverpool and Sefton? It covers a small part of my constituency. Even if the urban development corporation had a massive budget and represented a real commitment to investment, it would be a small contribution to the needs of the whole of Merseyside. The clauses that we are discussing affect the whole of Merseyside.

I certainly agree with that. There are many parts of Merseyside that gain no advantage from the development corporation. To take away the power to assist small businesses would be a disadvantage to those who wish to establish businesses in Merseyside. The establishment of an urban development corporation would be no use to the people living in the township of Kirkby, whose problems do not need to be repeated again tonight. I agree with the reason given by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that far too often we talk about our problems but we do not talk about some of the good things.

The Minister spoke about urban programme funds. I should have a lot more confidence in the Government and in the Front Bench if they were to announce tonight that they will revoke their decision to enforce time-expired clauses on urban projects in the city of Liverpool. The practical effect of that will be that many projects that have been financed through the urban programme are now living with a sort of Damoclean sword over their heads. They face great uncertainty about their future. One such project dealing with handicapped children in the Holly Road area of my constituency has recently been told that its grant may not be renewed next year because of the time-expired principle. That will mean that it may not be able to continue to employ staff and to deal with the children who are being helped by the project. If we are serious in the resolve to try to assist Merseyside through the help of the urban programme, it would be a good idea to review the time-expired procedures.

If the clause and the amendments are supported, they will result in a deliberate discrimination against Merseyside, Liverpool has been developing a system of small business extension by the development of advance factories and by assistance of small entrepreneurs who are already based in Merseyside. Many of those small businesses have been expanding and creating new jobs. That has been done with the assistance of grants. If the additional assistance which is made available under the Bill were to come into effect, many more jobs would be created and small businesses, which are the life-blood of the nation's economy, would be assisted.

Liverpool's main problem is that it is burdened with the most profligate spending authority in the United Kingdom. I should like to quote from Tuesday night's issue of the Liverpool Echo:
"Ratepayers all over Merseyside face staggering rate rises; although the district councils have not yet announced their demands, in Liverpool the new rate could be as much as 60 per cent. up on last year. Part of this increase will be due to the extra demand of the Merseyside County Council, whose officials are recommending an increase of 29 per cent. in the rates they levy through the district councils."

Order. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to what is in the new clause and in the amendments which are being discussed with it.

I intend to relate the quotation to the clause, on the basis that it deals with small businesses, which will be very badly hit by the increase in rates. If the existing clauses are not supported this evening, it will be one more body blow that will affect small businesses. But I will bear your comments in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in trying to keep to the point.

The Liverpool Echo went on to say:
"This is not, of course, a direct 29 per cent. on the ratepayers' bill, but only on that proportion of the bill which goes to the county, but it is none the less a big jump. The ratepayer is also going to face huge rises in the water rate. Increases for domestic users will average 23.5 per cent. throughout the North-West."
The article concludes:
"Can the County council really say there is no way they can avoid asking for £36 million more?"
I believe that there is. The first thing it should do is to abandon and scrap the Liverpool inner ring road scheme, which is also dealt with in the Bill in the clauses covering the use of powers granted under the Liverpool Corporation Act 1966.

In the past, many small businesses have been blighted and many jobs have been lost as a result of the Liverpool motorway scheme, which later became the Liverpool inner ring road scheme. Over the last 15 to 20 years, about 100,000 people have left Liverpool. Many jobs have been lost and many small businesses, due to the effects of clearance and blight, have been closed down. That is why, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Waver-tree (Mr. Steen) said earlier, there is so much derelict land in the heart of the inner city. It is not because of Hitler's blitzkrieg but more because of the blitzkrieg imposed by the Merseyside county council and its predecessor, the Liverpool city council, in demolishing people's homes to make way for a road that will be of no use to anyone, particularly the small businesses on Merseyside.

The Merseyside county council has just completed a structure plan which cost £3 million, and it tells us very little that was not already known. Last year it budgeted for a £17 million contingency fund, and it was over-budgeted by £6 million. Nevertheless, it still has to go on putting up the rates, and it is as a result of that that Liverpool city council will have to decide whether to cut back on school meals, school milk and so on. [Interruption.] I am afraid that there will not be very much school milk or many school meals as a result of the measures announced by the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

I am trying to make the point that the Liverpool city council is faced with a dilemma—should it raise rates or should it cut services? If it cuts such services as school meals and home helps, jobs will be lost in that area. If it puts up the rates, small businesses will inevitably have to close. For that reason, too, it is important that this burden should not be placed upon the ratepayers of Merseyside.

Many people do not seem to accept the position that Liverpool is facing. They do not seem to see its seriousness. The Minister said earlier that Liverpoool in some respects is no different from the rest of the country, but there is more unemployment on Merseyside than there is in the entire country of Wales or in Northern Ireland. If a general labourer is out of work on Merseyside, the odds against his getting a job are 222 to 1.

Merseyside has a different kind of problem from that in other parts of the country. It is not that we are putting our hands on our hearts and bleating and saying that we cannot solve our problems ourselves. Merseyside has the determination and the desire to solve its problems, but it needs support and assistance from other local authorities and the Government. That is why councillors on Merseyside see one way of assisting small businesses in their development by enacting clause 6, on page 6 of the Bill. Not to pass it would mean that many more small businesses would go the way of those that have already disappeared.

We do not hear a great song and dance about the disappearance of small businesses. We do not hear people complaining about this in the way that they complain about closures by Plessey, English Electric, Western Ship Repairers or Meccano, or when any of the well-known firms wish to cut 1,000 or 2,000 jobs. We are faced with a constant list of closures and redundancies, yet Merseyside is prepared to fight back for itself. That is why it desperately needs the sort of assistance that the Bill is trying to give it.

We are approaching a position in which not just on Mersey side but throughout the rest of the country we could be back to the hungry 1930s. The county council, behaving in an almost totalitarian way in its handling of some of Merseyside's problems, is to blame. Yet this part of the Bill is an example of something that it has done to try to ease those problems. We cannot be over-critical. We have to accept that the Bill is something of a curate's egg. It is good in parts. I hope that in the Division this evening the House will support this part of the Bill.

Governments in the past have persuaded themselves that big companies are far more efficient and effective than small ones, and have directed subsidies and tax relief, therefore, towards the bigger companies. In effect, Governments have discriminated against the small businesses already in existence, while at the same time making it extremely difficult for people to start up new businesses. We lag far behind our successful industrial competitors in terms of the proportion of manufacturing that is done in small firms. It is about time that Governments noticed that one reason why our economy is so much weaker than that of our competitors is precisely that ours is based so largely on centralised, bureaucratic and self-satisfied corporations which receive special favours from the national public purse. We are asking this evening for help from local funds, and that is a very different matter.

I also believe that our tax codes must be dramatically recast to ensure personal initiative, so that more people will want to set up and continue with small businesses. There should be at least as much incentive to invest in small businesses as there is to invest in pension funds. A Government-backed loan scheme, as recommended by the Wilson committee, should be establihed immediately, along with a small firms investment company. There should be a permanent post in the Cabinet for a Minister to range over all Government offices connected with small businesses.

One of the concessions obtained for small businesses during the period of the Lib-Lab pact was—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying wildly from the new clause. I must bring him back to order.

I am sure that you are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but small businesses have suffered as a result of the removal of a Minister from the Cabinet. During the period of the Lib-Lab pact, when there was a Minister appointed, it was a help to small businesses. In the same way, I hope that the enactment of the clauses of the Bill will be a help to small businesses on Merseyside.

The self-employed are the forgotten power-house of Britain. If they flourish, so will Britain flourish in the future. I hope, therefore, that these important clauses will be supported and that the amendments propounded by the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad) will be negatived.

This has been a fascinating debate, ranging very widely indeed. In considering new clause 2, several of the speakers strayed from the point, but far be it from me to criticise them, because I detect tonight something very important indeed—an all-party resolve on the part of all Merseyside Members to revitalise Merseyside.

8 pm

I should not like people outside the Chamber to feel that Merseyside wants to hide anything. We are an exciting and important area, deserving of the greatest attention. I detected that in all the speeches that I have heard tonight. In my constituency there are already signs of the new technology, with the siting of the new microchip factory, and there are many other important developments in progress.

I came to the Chamber to listen to all the arguments with an open mind. The argument that impressed me most is that which was adduced by my hon. Friend the Minister, and it is very simple. [ Interruption.] It is logical, if Opposition Members will listen.

If we allowed local authorities, as standard practice—for which the new clause would set a precedent—to adopt powers of this nature, Merseyside's special position would be seriously eroded. I regard Merseyside as having a special position far above that of any other part of the country. I am glad that that has been recognised by Ministers in this Government. One thing about which I felt disturbed under the previous Government was that Merseyside did not receive the high priority that it should have done. Unemployment doubled and trebled in my constituency at a time when we should have given Merseyside more concentrated power. Now, that has all changed because—

I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) would allow me to finish my point. I did not interrupt him. For those who believe in Merseyside and want to support it, this is a time to listen. The important fact about Merseyside, which was not recognised by the previous Government, lies in the philosophy of regional policy. We were then giving regional aid to about half the country. The present Government have decided to give that aid in greater concentration to areas such as Merseyside.

Before I decided to acquiesce to the new clause and the amendments, I made some investigations. I asked for examples of new businesses, existing jobs, old businesses and small firms which would not be able to set up on Merseyside if the new clause were passed. I am happy to tell the House that not one job will be lost on Merseyside as a result of the clause and not one inquiry that has been made will be turned away. I asked for evidence, and I have it. I am therefore able to reassure the House that the reason why the promoters of the Bill have instructed me to acquiesce in the new clause and the amendments is that they have been reassured that there will be no loss of jobs as a result of the change. It will mean a perpetration of deliberate discrimination in favour of Merseyside.

Not before time. About six stages back I wanted to intervene. The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) said that if the proposals in the Bill are accepted it will set a precedent. It will not. The Minister will discover, if he checks with his Department, that the 1976 Tyne and Wear legislation will not expire with all the other legislation. The precedent has already been set. If the county council thought it was right then, why is it now saying to the hon. Member that it does not want it? What the county council will provide is minute. No local county council could upset the balance of regional power in industry.

A great deal has happened since the Bill was first introduced. There are a new Government and a new resolve to help Merseyside, which I recognise and applaud. That is what has happened as a result of the change at the general election. I have heard much from the Opposition about entrepreneurs, private capital and small businesses, and I appeal to them to join me in a stronger Merseyside lobby for the policies which I have confidence this Government will bring forward.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time: —

Division No. 183]


[8.05 pm

Ancram, MichaelGardiner George (Reigate)Pattie, Geoffrey
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Glyn, Dr AlanPrentice, Rt Hon Reg
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Fdmunds)Raison, Timothy
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Grist, IanRathbone, Tim
Berry, Hon AnthonyHeddle, JohnRees-Davies, W. R.
Best, KeithHicks, RobertRhodes James, Robert
Blackburn, JohnHunt, David (Wirral)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Blaker, PeterHurd, Hon DouglasSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Boscawen, Hon RobertJessel, TobySt. John Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Boyson, Or RhodesLangford-Holt, Sir JohnShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Bright, GrahamLawson, NigelShersby, Michael
Brittan, LeonLe Merchant, SpencerSims, Roger
Brooke, Hon PeterLester, Jim (Beeston)Speller, Tony
Browne, John (Winchester)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickLuce, RichardSproat, Iain
Buck, AntonyMacfarlane, NeilStanbrook, Ivor
Butler, Hon AdamMacGregor, JohnStanley, John
Carlisle, John (Luton West)McQuarrie, AlbertStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Chalker, Mrs LyndaMajor, JohnStradling Thomas, J.
Channon, PaulMarlow, TonyThomas, Rt Hon peter (Hendon S)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Thompson, Donald
Colvin, MichaelMarten, Neil (Banbury)Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Cope,JohnMather, CarolTownend, John (Bridlington)
Corrie, JohnMaude, Rt Hon AngusWaddington, David
Costain, A. P.Mellor, DavidWakeham, John
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Mills, Iain (Meriden)Watson, John
Emery, PeterMonro, HectorWheeler, John
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Whitney, Raymond
Finsberg, GeoffreyMyles, DavidYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesNeedham, RichardYounger, Rt Hon George
Fookes, Miss JanetNelson, Anthony
Forman, NigelNeubert, MichaelTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanNewton, TonyMr. Alastair Goodland and
Fox, MarcusPage, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Mr. Malcolm Thornton.
Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Parkinson, Cecil


Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Ogden, Eric
Buchan, NormanHardy, PeterO'Neill, Martin
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Harrison, Rt Hon WalterPalmer, Arthur
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Haynes, FrankParry, Robert
Cohen, StanleyHeffer, Eric S.Penhaligon, David
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Cook, Robin F.Home Robertson, JohnPrescott, John
Cowans, HarryHowells, GeraintPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Cryer, BobHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Dalyell, TamJohnston, Russell (Iverness)Silverman, Julius
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Spriggs, Leslie
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldStallard, A. W.
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kilfedder, James A.Strang, Gavin
Dixon, DonaldLamond, JamesVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Dubs, AlfredLeighton, RonaldWhitlock, William
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Litherland, Robert
Field, FrankLofthouse, GeoffreyTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Mr. Allan Roberts and
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMarks, Kenneth Mr. David Alton.
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Maynard, Miss Joan

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3


From the commencement of this Act no tolls shall be charged for passage through the Mersey Tunnels.—[ Mr. Alton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The House divided: Ayes 110, Noes 55.

8.15 pm

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 33, in page 75, line 39, leave out clauses 91 to 99.

No. 37, in clause 101, page 80, line 4, leave out from 'enactment' to 'after' in line 7.

No. 38, in page 80, line 10, leave out 'such moneys' and insert

'moneys borrowed for the purposes mentioned in subsection (2) below, or under subsection (3) below.'.

The purpose of the clause is to remove the tolls on the Mersey tunnels. They act as an artificial barrier instead of a bond on Merseyside.

In 1929 Parliament granted powers to allow the charging of tolls for the first Mersey tunnel. The leader of the Liverpool council, Sir Archibald Sinclair, said that there would come a time when the tunnel would be made toll-free. His successor many, many years later, Sir Harold MacDonald Stewart, gave a similar pledge when the Wallasey tunnel was completed. However, in 1980 we continue to pay a toll. There is a toll of 30p if one travels by car and a charge of 70p for vehicles of over three tons. That means that many are impeded in their desire to get from their place of residence to their place of work. Frequently transporters, hauliers and businessmen are unable to transport their commodities as successfully and economically as they would wish because of the large tolls that are imposed.

Many people cannot afford the cost of travelling through the Mersey tunnel. That is adding to the problems of the Merseyside economy. Some hon. Members gave an election undertaking that given the election of a Conservative Government they would fight for the tolls to be removed from the Mersey tunnels. I hope that Conservative Members who took that view in the past will find it within their power to support me in voting for the removal of tolls.

It would be of great benefit to Merseyside if people were able more readily to travel from one side of the water to the other. Undoubtedly the tolls act as a barrier. People are forced to pay tolls that are wildly beyond what they might reasonably be expected to pay. That is why I am convinced that the Mersey tunnels should become part of the national road netword and should act as a way of linking one community with another.

A person living in the Wirral, in Birkenhead or in Wallasey will have to pay 30p each day as he travels through the tunnel on his way to work. He will have to find another 30p on his return in the evening. In addition, he will have to pay high parking charges in Liverpool.

That is a disincentive to many firms to use Liverpool as a base for their business and to the spread of commerce in the city. Equally, business men who wish to transport their goods from Liverpool to the other side of the water in order to link up with the sophisticated motorway network which runs out of Birkenhead and Wallasey are faced with large costs. That, too, is a disincentive to commerce on Merseyside.

A much smaller number of households on Merseyside and in Liverpool own cars than probably in any other part of the country. We should look at the special problems of Merseyside and deal with them accordingly. The people who have cars should be given assistance to keep those cars in use, and their overheads should be reduced by removing the tolls from the tunnels. Like any other motorists, they pay road tax and the extortionate cost of petrol, and on top of that they pay the tolls. Equally, advice should be given to advise the Merseyside county council about the way in which it should integrate the tunnels and the road system into the basic network of transportation. For a long time, I have been struck by the fact that the council's transportation policies have left much to be desired.

Earlier, I referred to the Liverpool inner ring road. It was designed to feed into the Mersey tunnels but it has proved to be a non-event. It was the brainchild of politicians and planners in the 1960s. In 1966, the city council used the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Act 1966 powers in order to go ahead with the construction of the inner motorway. That was to be a road that might have been 16—in some places even 18—lanes wide. That is quite unimaginable in this day and age. It has been scaled down, but it will still cost the ratepayers about £40 million, at a time when people face vast increases in other costs.

Those powers are being re-enacted in the Bill. That means that people will not have the right of public inquiry. The best thing that the House and the sponsors of the Bill can do is not to look at the problems of the tunnels in isolation but to look at the problems of the inner ring road as well. I plead with the sponsors to remove the clauses, which, once again, empower the Liverpool city council and the Merseyside county council to proceed with the construction of the ring road. It will mean that many small businesses will be driven out of business. Over 1,000 more jobs—on the county council's figures—could be lost. The ratepayers will be faced with large charges.

Equally, the way in which the Merseyside passenger transport executive works leaves much to be desired. I sometimes believe that MPTE stands for "make passenger transport extinct".

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. However, the point is that the Government have to finance this matter. Even if the new clause is passed—I shall vote for it—in the last analysis the Government have to pay. Therefore, we should appeal to the Government to give us the money. That must be made clear, otherwise a false impression is created. Passing the new clause alone will not solve the problem. I have been writing to several Governments for years and they have all told me that it cannot be done.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is correct when he says that freeing the tunnels will cost money. The danger is that if we do not free the tunnels, look at transportation policy again and reorder our priorities there will be more disadvantage to the economy of Merseyside. The hon. Member for Walton is saying that it will cost money to free the tolls. I am trying to point out that, for example, if the inner ring road scheme were abandoned, we would save a great deal of money which could be used to make the tunnels free. I do not ask merely for handouts from the Government. I plead with the sponsors to look at other clauses in the Bill which will mean that the county council will not have sufficient future money to free the tolls on the tunnels. One practical way in which that could be done is by looking at the clauses that allow the construction of the remainder of the Liverpool inner ring road.

When I spoke earlier, I tried to point out that the county council appears to have lost sight of the basic services, such as the operation of the tunnels and the clearing of grids and gulleys. It has cut back on those services and cannot even deal with matters like Dutch elm disease. It has decided that the districts should do that themselves, because it cannot provide money for those schemes. That is the reason it gives for not freeing thetolls—there is not enough money. I say that we could have the money if there were cutbacks on ludicrous schemes such as the inner ring road. I go further and say that we would save an even greater amount of money if we abolished the Merseyside county council. In the last few years, it has spent far too much time on grandiose pie-in-the-sky schemes that have turned into ratepayers' nightmares. Another example is the 139 high buildings that it wants to build on Liverpool dock front.

There has been a wide debate on the first new clause and I shall be much stricter on the second. Will the hon. Gentleman confine himself to the Mersey tunnels and not range on to subjects such as high-rise buildings?

I am trying to make the point that if the county council spent half the time that it spent on ludicrous fanciful schemes on trying to conserve ratepayers' money, the money would be available to free the tunnels. That would bring great benefit to the economy of Merseyside.

I return to the question of the number of households in Liverpool and on Merseyside with cars. In 1977, 56 per cent. of households in Great Britain had the use of at least one car. Estimates of numbers of households are not made for every year, but in 1976 there were 19·4 million households in Great Britain. That figure is drawn from the "Housing and Construction Statistics No. 25, Supplementary Table XVIII". Therefore, about 10.9 millon households had the use of at least one car. In Merseyside, the position is different. In the North-West, compared with the average number of 16 per cent. of people who own two or more cars, 9 per cent. own two or more cars.

About 41 per cent. of households on Merseyside have only one car, compared with 51 per cent. in the South-East. Fifty per cent. of households on Merseyside have no car, compared with 33 per cent. from similar samples in the South-East. Those figures graphically show the differences that exist. That is why the Bill is being promoted. It takes account of the local problems of our conurbations, but the reintroduction of tolls continues to place a charge on those who can least afford it. It does not remove a barrier or create a bond. Many of those who can least afford the toll do not own a car.

I hope that the sponsors of the Bill will think again about the clauses relating to the inner ring road. I hope that they will support the principle of removing tolls. Given the opportunity and the savings that I have mentioned, the county council could find the money to finance such a scheme.

8.30 pm

I shall be brief. I shall not ride all my Mersey hobby-horses at the same time, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) has done. During the general election campaign, I do not recall making a pledge to the effect that Mersey tunnels should be toll-free.

In the past, as leader of Wirral borough council, I fought for a revision of the Government's estuarial policies. I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Edge Hill concerning the need for toll-free tunnels in Merseyside. However, this is not the way to achieve that. The outstanding sum of £63 million will be left for Merseyside ratepayers to pick up. The hon. Member deludes himself—which is not unknown—if he thinks that Merseyside county council will suddenly produce that money out of thin air. The new clause will mean that costs will fall on the backs of hard-pressed ratepayers in Merseyside.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) that the sum of £50 million or more which is to be spent on the white elephant of a ring road could be put to better use?

I do not accept that. The hon. Member for Edge Hill has dragged the question of the ring road into the debate. He will have an opportunity later to mention the ring road. We are discussing the Mersey tunnels and whether they should be toll-free. We should tackle the problem in a different way. We should persuade this Government—as we attempted to persuade the previous Government—to revise their estuarial policies. I hope that the hon. Member for Edge Hill and my other colleagues from Merseyside will join me in supporting that course of action.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) and I took part in an Adjournment debate on a similar issue several years ago. At 3 o'clock or later in the morning we tried to persuade the former Minister of Transport to adopt this policy. We received a considerable amount of sympathy from the Minister, but unfortunately we received no assistance.

The argument for a toll-free Mersey tunnel grows day by day. More and more highways and motorways are being constructed on both sides of the Mersey. We should therefore consider including the Mersey tunnel in the national road system. I hope that the inner ring road will never be constructed. When the Mersey tunnel was first opened in 1934, it was agreed that tolls would be removed once the cost had been covered.

In the 1960s, when the Merseyside county council and the local city council decided to construct a second Mersey tunnel, it was agreed that the surplus cash should accrue and be kept to finance a second tunnel. That was opened in the early 1970s.

Some tunnels and bridges in this country are toll-free. The Mersey tunnel is important to Merseyside. We should have proper integration of our national road system. It is time that tolls were abolished, and I support new clause 3.

I am amazed at the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton). He is not riding all his hobby-horses tonight because he is being whipped into voting against them. He has already been whipped into voting against proposals to encourage small businesses.

The hon. Gentleman is being whipped into voting against the very amendments that would make a reality of toll-free tunnels under the Mersey estuary. Unless hon. Gentlemen put their feet and votes where their concern and views are, that objective will never be achieved. I hope that the people of Merseyside will learn through the media—they will certainly be told through leaflets distributed by the Labour Party in Bootle—that Conservative Members who represent Merseyside are reneging on their duty. They are being cajoled and whipped into the Lobby to vote against measures that would benefit Merseyside.

I support the new clause. Why do we have tolls? Successive Governments have said that users should pay directly for at least some exceptional benefits, as they call them, in time and cost that major new and expensive estuarial crossings offer. I suggest that they are not exceptional benefits. The tunnels under the Mersey estuary provided the very communications network of which the hon. Member for Garston sang the praises only a few minutes ago. They are an integral part of the road network that serves Merseyside. They should not be treated differently from any other road or motorway. To do so would be detrimental and unjust to Merseyside.

The toll income from all the estuarial crossings in Britain is 1 per cent. of the annual expenditure on roads in England, Scotland and Wales. In the past, Ministers have said that costs should be met by those who benefit—the users. Others benefit from the Mersey tunnel—industry, commerce and everyone in the community. If the Government mean what they say about helping industry in Merseyside, hon. Gentlemen should vote for the clause and make the tunnels toll free.

About 99·99 per cent. of road mileage in England, Scotland and Wales is financed from the proceeds of national and local taxation. These crossings form the remaining 25 miles. That is all. They are financed by toll charges. Motorways are financed 100 per cent. by taxpayers' money. The user and the ratepayer pay nothing. The taxpayer pays nothing for toll tunnels. The user pays virtually 100 per cent. and the ratepayer pays hardly anything.

The idea of directly charging road users to pay for the provision and upkeep of roads came to an end in this country with the abandonment of the old turn-pike philosophy in the nineteenth century. But it has not been abandoned for the Mersey Tunnel.

We are asking nothing for Merseyside that has not already been granted to many estuarial crossings in other parts of the country. For example, there are the M5 Avonmouth bridge at Bristol, the M5 crossing of the River Exe at Exeter, the M62 crossing of the River Ouse at Goole, the M2 crossing of the River Medway, the M275 crossing in Portsmouth and the M85 crossing of the River Tay at Perth. The major difference between these crossings and the Mersey Tunnel is the cost of construction, which in all the major toll-free crossings was grant-aided wholly or mainly by the Government. In comparison, reflecting the "user-must-pay" policy, derisory grant aid was paid towards major toll crossings constructed by local authorities. There have been only four instances of Government grant being paid towards such facilities and in each case the amount involved was related to the orginal estimate of the cost of construction. The grant was never reviewed to allow for planning and construction delays or for the effects of inflation.

In the case of the tunnel connecting Liverpool and Birkenhead, which opened in 1934, 50 per cent. of the original estimated cost of £5 million was granted, and the actual cost was £8 million. Given such minimal grant aid, both to that tunnel and to the others that have subsequently been built, the crossing authority had to find other means of financing construction. It had to finance the construction cost pending receipts of revenue from the users.

In almost all the cases the bulk of the cost was financed by loans, many of which were provided by the Government at the prevailing market rate of interest. That has created a major problem for Merseyside because the outstanding debt on the loans is causing great difficulties. The operating cost of the Mersey Tunnel in 1977–78 was £2·6 million. The debt charges totalled £6·1 million, making a grand total of £8·7 million. Toll income was only £5·3 million, so the deficit for that year was £3·4 million. The deficit brought forward from previous years was £19·5 million, making a total deficit of £22·9 million, arising mainly from interest paid on loans that were borrowed because tunnels were financed not by Government assistance, but by money that the local authorities had to borrow. It is the continually rising interest debt burden that is causing such problems.

In the early 1960s the Birkenhead tunnel was carrying traffic close to its capacity and a second crossing was obviously needed. At that time both the Government and the local authorities concerned believed that the tunnels would eventually pay for themselves. That is not so. To make up the deficit of £22·9 million, tolls for cars would have to be increased from the present 30p to £1·35, and Mersey tunnel tolls have already quadrupled in the last 13 years.

It is obvious that the least that should be done for an area like Merseyside, which has special development area status and which needs special assistance, is for the Government to provide funding to clear some of the outstanding debts. If the local authority really wants to spend a little of the ratepayers' money in order to get maximum benefit, it could contribute to getting rid of the tolls. Nineteenth century economics dictate that travelling with a car or a commercial vehicle means paying a toll. That is bad for Merseyside, and the remedy would cost the nation a negligible amount.

I believe that it could have an amazing effect in benefits to employment and industry on Merseyside. I shall be watching, like the whole of Merseyside, to see how Conservative Members vote in the Division Lobbies on this issue.

8.45 pm

The amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) and my hon. Friends is attractive at first sight. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry) said, he and I and other Merseyside Members had almost exactly the same debate in an Adjournment debate on 25 January 1977 at 4.55 am. I have a theory that somewhere in the Department of Transport, and in the Department of the Environ- ment there is a long-lived person called the custodian of estuarial crossings. Governments comeand Governments go, but the policy remains the same.

Although I am not a betting man, I predict that the answer of the Under-Secretary, if he cares to intervene and help us with his advice, will be the same as that given by the Under-Secretary of State in 1977, namely, "special principles". I thought that the only principle was the percentage of salt water in the river or the estuary over which, or under which, one crossed. I thought that men went round to find out where a river was tolled and where it was not. I give the words of the Under-Secretary at that time:
"Estuarial crossings are tolled—whether they are part of the national motorway network, as at Severn, or on local roads, as at Mersey—because they offer exceptional benefits for which it is thought right that the user should pay."—[Official Report, 25 January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 1459.]
I do not think that anyone on Merseyside would deny the enormous benefit that the linking of the two sides of the estuary has produced. I can go from North London to Merseyside on 200 miles of motorway which provide me with exceptional benefits, and do so free. The argument about tolls can be won by any reasonable person, but it means changing the policy of the Department.

We cannot have the enormous motorway links that exist in this country, and the attractive and useful links in Lancashire and Cheshire—the best motorway system in the whole of the United Kingdom—and have this narrow gap. I am not concerned so much about the amount of the toll. The charges are levied more on the constituents of the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) than on mine, but if someone can afford a motor car costing between £3,000 and £10,000—there are a fair number on Merseyside—thetoll will not make much difference. Those who can pay between £10,000 to £20,000 for a juggernaut lorry will also not worry too much about the cost of the toll. The amount of the charge is not particularly important to me. The fact that it is charged at all is important.

No Opposition Member wants a toll. Among the alternatives open to us is an attempt to persuade the Government—we were not able to persuade the Labour Government—to take over the debt and provide aid and assistance. To act as has been suggested would result in the Government saying that a resolution had been passed and the Act could not come into force, or that when it came into force there would be no tolls. The Government would tell hon. Members to go back to Merseyside and sort the matter out. They would refuse to give extra money. There could be no tolls. We would have landed our ratepayers with a bill of £5 million to £8 million without any guarantee that anyone else would pay.

I tried to make the point that massive savings could be made by Merseyside county council itself. The council could cut down its contingency fund for next year, which is well above what is required. More important, it could exercise some thrift and perhaps abandon the inner ring road scheme that will cost ratepayers and taxpayers over £40 million. If that money were saved, it could be put into the exchequer and perhaps enable the county council to fund the tolls on the tunnel.

That should bed one on a planned basis. It is a matter for conscious decision on Merseyside, though probably every other hon. Member for Merseyside would have a different set of priorities.

It is the job of county councillors, not of Members of Parliament, to run the county council. One of the problems with county councils is that so few electors take part in electing councillors, but they complain to Parliament when things go wrong. The electors should sort out their own problems. They put the Tory county council in, and if they do not like what the councillors are now doing they must sort it out themselves.

I cannot, in all conscience, on the basis of a one-off badly worded clause or amendment, land my ratepayers and others on Merseyside with an uncontrolled uncommitted bill for £5 million to £8 million.

As the Merseyside authority built two important tunnels under the Mersey, and as they serve many parts of the United Kingdom by enhancing mobility and communications between north and south, does my hon. Friend agree that it is the responsibility of the Government—if they really want to help Merseyside with its economic and unemployment problems—to take on board the cost of repairing and maintaining both tunnels?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We say that the tunnels, as estuarial crossings, should be part of the motorway network and be financed in the same way. I do not wish to land the St. Helens constituents, who hardly use the tunnels, with a £5 million to £8 million bill on a completely irrational and unconsidered basis.

I make the same point as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) concerning the removal of tolls. Many of us have been campaigning on that issue for a long time and for that reason I appreciate that the hon. Member for Liverpool. Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) has tabled the clause. It gives us an opportunity to discuss the issues.

The only way we can deal with this in concrete terms is to get from the Government—whether they be Labour or Tory—a statement that they will meet the financial loss that would result if tolls were abolished. If we abolish the tolls, we lose £8 million. When I say "lose", I also mean that the people of Merseyside would gain that money, and that is right because they need it. There ought not to be tolls. But without a clear guarantee from the Government of the day that they would give grant aid to us as an area if we abolished the county council the ratepayers of Merseyside would have to pay that £8 million. There is no argument about that. The money has to be raised somehow.

I argue that the clause, though I agree totally with its principle, would leave us in a difficult situation if it were passed in its present form. I shall vote for it because I feel that it would be a good expression of opinion. I fear that it will not get through anyway, because the Government have sufficient forces here to stop us.

If only for that reason, I think that we should have added at the end of the clause words such as "provided that the Government finance the needs of the tunnel" or something of that kind. That is the reality. We are not in the glorious situation that the state of Louisiana was in in the days of Huey Long when tolls were charged on State bridges. Huey Long solved the problem simply. Private enterprise ran those bridges and he told the operators that if tolls were not removed he would erect free bridges next to those on which tolls were charged. He built a free bridge and solved the problem, because once the free bridge was built no one used the toll bridge.

We cannot build another tunnel because the cost would be astronomical. The only way to solve the problem is for the Government of the day to accept responsibility. It is right that they should. We have argued this case for years. Despite all the aid given by Labour Governments, there has not been sufficient aid given to help Merseyside to solve its problems. The case is unanswerable.

If the clause were accepted, difficult problems would be created for the local authority despite the argument that has been put forward that there could be some trimming back by the Merseyside county council. I have never been in favour of Merseyside county council. Long before I entered the House of Commons, I moved a motion in the Liverpool city council opposing the idea of the Merseyside county council. Unfortunately, the motion was lost.

I shall vote for the clause only because it is an expression of opinion. I do not think that it will be passed. If it were, I would have to accept responsibility for adding £8 million on to the ratepayers' bill. I do not want to accept such a responsibility. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to make a two-minute speech and say that the Government will accept total responsibility and meet the deficit that will arise. That will solve the problem of the Merseyside ratepayers. If he does that, he will please hon. Members on both sides of the House, there will be unanimity, and there will be no need for a vote. The ball is in his court.

What a marvellous speech the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) made. I have heard of hedging bets, but for the hon. Gentleman to say that he will vote in favour of the clause in the expectation and hope that it will be lost was a slightly tortuous argument. I know exactly what he means.

I fully support the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) in an all-party approach to remove the toll on tunnels, and I would like that all-party approach to be strengthened. I am delighted with the efforts of the consortium of Mersey, Tyne, Dartford and Humber crossing authorities, which deserves our fullest support. A review is necessary of estuarial policy.

I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton), who lives in my constituency. He spoke extremely ably and asked why we should have this artificial, psychological and costly barrier just to enable us to get from our homes to our place of work. I support the notion that our crossing should be free.

9 pm

Will the hon. Gentleman say how he would finance the objective that he favours? Many people express the pious hope that some day the Merseyside tunnels will be toll-free. That was said by those who built the first tunnel in 1929 and the second tunnel. How would the hon. Gentleman finance the project? The clause does not specify that. It deliberately leaves the question open. It can be a matter either for the local authority or the Government, or perhaps both. That is why the clause does not go into detail.

The taxpayer should bear the cost of our tunnel tolls. I do not need to quote political speeches made in 1934 or since. I have lived in Liverpool for most of my life. As a child I went through those tunnels. I remember, quite vividly, a friendly old man with a moustache who used to beam benignly down at me sitting in the car. He said "Do not worry, young lad. When you are grown up, there will not be any tolls."

If I had known at that time that the old gentleman was the hon. Gentleman's father-in-law, my response might have been very different.

We must face realities. The new clause has given us an opportunity to debate an important issue. I realise the public expenditure constraints. Nevertheless, I believe that all of us from Merseyside, from all parties, should press for a new national policy on estuarial crossings.

I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) will not press his new clause. If he does, he may become known as the most expensive Merseyside Member of Parliament. It is not just a question of £8·7 million. We should still have to repay £63million, without the revenue with which to make repayments. If that happened, Merseyside rates would double. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to be responsible for that.

Division No. 184]


[9.03 pm

Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Penhaligon, David
Buchan, NormanHardy, PeterPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Campbell-Savours, DaleHaynes, FrankPrescott, John
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Heffer, Eric S.Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Ross, Stephen (Isle of wight)
Cook, Robin F.Home Robertson, JohnSever, John
Cryer, BobHowells, GeraintSpriggs, Leslie
Dalyell, TamHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Stallard, A. W.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Strang, Gavin
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)Jones, Dan (Burnley)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kilfedder, James A.White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Dewar, DonaldLomond, JamesWhitlock, William
Dixon, DonaldLeighton, RonaldWoodall, Alec
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Field, FrankMcDonald, Dr OonaghTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Mr. David Alton and Mr. Allan Roberts.
Golding, JohnO'Neill, Martin
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Parry, Robert


Ancram, MichaelGlyn, Dr AlanPattie, Geoffrey
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Goodlad, AlastairPollock, Alexander
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Grist, IanPym, Rt Hon Francis
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Hawkins, PaulRaison, Timothy
Berry, Hon AnthonyHicks, RobertRathbone, Tim
Best, KeithHunt, David (Wirral)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Blackburn, JohnHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Blaker, PeterHurd, Hon DouglasRossi, Hugh
Boscawen, Hon RobertJessel, TobySainsbury, Hon Timothy
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Boyson, Dr RhodesKellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Brinton, TimLangford-Holt, Sir JohnShersby, Michael
Brittan, LeonLe Marchant, SpencerSims, Roger
Brooke, Hon PeterLester, Jim (Beeston)Speller, Tony
Browne, John (Winchester)Lloyd, Peter(Fareham)Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickLuce, RichardSproat, Iain
Butler, Hon AdamMacfarlane, NeilStanbrook, Ivor
Carlisle, John (Luton West)MacGregor, JohnStanley, John
Chalker, Mrs LyndaMcQuarrie, AlbertStevens, Martin
Channon, PaulMajor, JohnStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Marlow, TonyStradling Thomas, J.
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Thompson, Donald
Colvin, MichaelMarten, Neil (Banbury)Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Cope, JohnMather, CarolTownend, John (Bridlington)
Corrie, JohnMaude, Rt Hon AngusWaddington, David
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinWakeham, John
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Elliott, Sir WilliamMills, Iain (Meriden)Wheeler, John
Emery, PeterMonro, HectorWhitney, Raymond
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMorrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Wickenden, Keith
Finsberg, GeoffreyMyles, DavidWiggin, Jerry
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesNeedham, RichardYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Fookes, Miss JanetNelson, AnthonyYounger, Rt Hon George
Forman, NigelNeubert, Michael
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanNewton, TonyTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fox, MarcusPage, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamMr. Malcolm Thornton and Mr. Graham Bright.
Gardiner George (Reigate)Parkinson, Cecil

Question accordingly negatived.

The promoters of the Bill are aware of the strong feelings on this issue. However, they cannot possibly accept a denial of the revenue from the tolls under existing Government policy. I therefore urge hon. Members to vote against the new clause.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time: —

The House divided: Ayes, 48, Noes 110.

Clause 1


Amendment made: No. 5, in page 3, line 13, leave out '1st January, 1980' and insert—

'the expiration of three months after the passing of this Act'.—[Mr. Goodlad.]

Clause 2


Amendment made: No. 6, in page 4, line 24, leave out 'National' and leave out 'Development'.—[ Mr. Goodlad.]

Clause 3


Amendment made: No. 7, in page 4, line 33, leave out '1st January, 1980' and insert—

'the commencement of this Act'.—[Mr. Goodlad.]

Clause 5


Amendment made: No. 1, in page 5, line 37, leave out Clause 5.—[ Mr. Goodlad.]

Clause 6


Amendments made: No. 2, in page 6, leave out lines 12 to 16.

No. 3, in page 6, line 17, leave out '(c)'.

No. 4, in page 6, leave out lines 20 to 22 and insert—

'(2) In this section "small firm"means an industrial undertaking which has no more than 100 whole-time employees.'—[Mr. Goodlad.]

Clause 7


Amendment made: No. 8, in page 6, line 25, after 'building', insert 'or'.—[ Mr Goodlad.]

Clause 14


Amendment made: No. 9, in page 12, line 23, at end insert—

'(3) Section 154 of the Highways Act 1959 (openings to cellars or vaults underfootways) shall have effect in the county as if, in substitution for the definition of "appropriate authority" in that section provided by section 153(6), there were inserted at the end of section 154—
  • "(6A) In this section 'appropriate authority' means, in relation to any street which is a highway, the highway authority for the street, and, in relation to any other street, the local authority in whose area the street is situated." '.—[Mr. Goodlad.]

Clause 17


Amendments made: No. 10, in page 14, line 36, leave out 'a' and insert 'any'.

No. 11, in page 15, line 2, leave out 'district council' and insert 'local authority'.

No. 12, in page 15, line 11, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this subsection'.

No. 13, in page 15, line 16, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this subsection'.

No. 14, in page 16, line 8, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this section'.

No. 15, in page 16, line 10, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this section'.

No. 16, in page 16, leave out line 13. and insert—

'of this section.
  • (5B) A person contravening such a notice requiring the deferment of part of the demolition shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £500, but in any proceedings for an offence under this subsection it shall be a defence for the person charged to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence.'.—[Mr. Goodlad.]

Clause 31


I beg to move amendment No. 31, in page 26, line 19, leave out 'the district council and'.

With this we may take amendment No. 32, in page 26, line 19, after 'constable', insert

'by delivering it to a police constable at any police station in the district'.

9.15 pm

These amendments are the result of a good deal of discussion and deliberation. Hon. Members may recall that the so-called street procession clauses have given rise to a considerable amount of debate and discussion.

In a previous debate I stressed that in no circumstances were the clauses intended to apply to spontaneous processions. It has been a recognised concern of many hon. Members that in their present form the clauses could ban spontaneous marches. That was never the intention. Therefore, the two amendments will clarify the situation beyond any reasonable doubt.

For an organised procession there will still have to be three days' notice, and for the vast majority of other processions there will still have to be at least three day's notice. I hope that to assist the police force in Merseyside a period of notice in excess of three days will be given when there is a major procession. Regarding the spontaneous procession, I give the following undertaking and assurance that under clause 30 byelaws will have to be submitted to the Home Secretary by the county council for confirmation. It will appear as a paragraph (b) and it will state:
"If in the case of any procession it is not reasonable and practicable to give the notice required by the said section 31"—
that is, clause 31 of the Bill—
"by the time it is so required, the notice may be given as soon as reasonably practicable after that time, and before the procession starts to pass through any streets."
I give an assurance on behalf of the promoters that that will be the text of the byelaw to be submitted to the Home Secretary by Merseyside county council. I hope that that will do much to meet the fears and concerns of hon. Members. I hope that citizens in Merseyside will continue to give the police every possible support and every possible notice of any major procession, so that the police will be able to take adequate precautions to give the citizen the protection that he seeks from our police force.

It is not my intention to disturb any agreement that has been reached but simply to put on record a statement of the enormous amount of time that the county council and hon. Members have taken in concentrating their energies on this particular agreement.

The agreement recognises that some hon. Members and some people in Merseyside believe that the first test of democracy is to get up, organise a spontaneous demonstration, and march. There are others, like myself, who feel that the demonstration encourages the demonstrators and encourages a show of strength. I heard that the only time a demonstration changed anyone's mind was when the crowd cheered for Barabbas. But I shall not comment on that. An agreement has been reached. It is operable and it should cause no difficulties.

It may be convenient if I indicate the Government's attitude to the amendments which have now been agreed, and which I welcome.

Crucial to the agreement that has been reached is the question of the byelaw. The effect of the byelaw, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) spoke, would be, in effect, to apply in Merseyside arrangements in relation to giving notice of processions similar to those that the House recently agreed should apply in the West Midlands. Such a byelaw would require confirmation by the Home Secretary. I should like to make it clear that there will be no problem in securing that confirmation. I am glad that it has proved possible for the promoters of the Bill and the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) to reach agreement on that basis.

As I made clear in our discussion on the West Midlands Bill, the compromise formula then achieved, which is now again to be given in Merseyside, may not necessarily provide a perfect model were the Government to decide, as a result of their current review of general public order legislation, that a national requirement of advance notice is desirable. That would be a question that would have to be considered on a national basis when the review was completed and according to the conclusions reached in that review. Any decision taken by the House tonight in no sense pre-empts that review or implies any conclusion of it.

I also said, when we considered the West Midlands provisions, that where a case was made for a provision of this sort in the current local legislation that is going through the House, there was some advantage in a measure of uniformity of approach. That is a further reason why I congratulate those concerned on what is now proposed, as it falls in line with the similar compromise that has been reached elsewhere.

I think, therefore, that it makes sense, pending any consideration of the whole question on a national basis as a result of the review on which we are now embarked.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 32, in page 26, line 19, after 'constable', insert—

'by delivering it to a police constable at any police station in the district'.—[Mr. David Hunt.]

Clause 33


I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 26, line 39, leave out clause 33.

I contend that clause 33 should be deleted from the Bill because it is a departure from what is usually accepted in Britain as basic justice in police procedures for searching people, with or without warrants. The clause gives the power to police constables within the Merseyside county council area to
"(a) search any person who may be reasonably suspected of having in his possession or conveying in any manner any thing stolen or unlawfully obtained; and (b) if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that any thing so stolen or unlawfully obtained may be found in or on any vehicle or vessel, enter upon and search the vehicle or vessel."
The clause thus gives police constables in Merseyside the power to search people, their vessels and their motor cars, without a search warrant and without consulting a magistrate in order to get a search warrant. It can be done simply because a police constable reasonably suspects that someone might have in his possession something that has been stolen. This is, as I have said, a departure from what British law has tradi- tionally said and provided for. There are very few cases in which it is possible for police constables to stop and search people or to search their motor cars or their vessels without a search warrant.

To give this blanket power, on the basis that the police constable takes it upon himself to suspect somebody, will create great difficulties. Indeed, where it is in existence at the moment in Merseyside, it causes great difficulties. Stop-and-search laws generally have come into very great disrepute, and rightly so.

There is a great deal of suspicion about the way in which the stop-and-search laws are used on Merseyside. If one speaks to the Merseyside community relations council, one is told that there is much anxiety about the way this law is applied to coloured youngsters and black youths on Merseyside. It is very often the coloured immigrant against whom the powers are used.

I urge the House to accept the amendment. I believe that it is wrong to give police constables power to stop and search without requiring them first to have obtained a warrant or to have grounds for suspicion other than those based on a constable's interpretation of what is "reasonable suspicion". I see that the Minister is nodding his head, but nowhere in this legislation is it spelt out that any other person, such as a magistrate, will be involved in determining what is "reasonable suspicion".

I move the amendment in the hope that the clause will be deleted. It is a major civil liberties issue, it will have an adverse effect on many young people, and it causes suspicion amongst the immigrant community on Merseyside. I hope that my amendment will be accepted in the spirit in which it is moved.

I support the proposal to delete clause 33. It is significant that if the clause is passed the date on which it will expire is 31 December 1984. There are plenty of "big brothers" in this world without encroaching further on the civil rights of the individual. The police already have sufficient power. Although stop-and-search powers have been used in Liverpool, Bootle and Birkenhead for many years—mainly in the dockland areas—they will now be spread over the whole of Merseyside.

I do not need to remind the House that in Liverpool there has been much disquiet about police public relations. To illustrate that, I need mention only the Jimmy Kelly case and a number of others that have caused serious public concern. The Liverpool trades council has opposed this clause, as, indeed, has the National Council for Civil Liberties. We should oppose the clause and support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts).

I again rise to give the House an indication of the Government's view on this matter. I should make it clear at the outset that I do not agree with the points that were put forward by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) and by his colleague, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry).

One should, first of all, look at what the provision of clause 33 permits. Here we come to the question of reasonable suspicion on the part of a police constable that a person whom he wishes to search has in his possession something stolen or unlawfully obtained. I apologise to the hon. Member for Bootle for the inaccurate movement of my head. I suspect that he interpreted a shake of the head for a nod. In fact, I was not agreeing with him when he said that it is simply left to a police constable to decide what is reasonable suspicion. The hon. Member is right to the extent that no one else is given any kind of specific prior veto; nor does it impose on the police constable an obligation to seek permission from anyone before purporting to exercise that power. None the less, the person whom the police constable wishes to search must be reasonably suspected. Afterwards, if there is any dispute about the matter, it will be for the court to decide whether the police constable had reasonable grounds for suspicion.

I will just develop this point and then I shall give way. It is not sufficient for the police constable to say "Well, I thought he looked suspicious."

9.30 pm

The very inclusion of the word "reasonable" must mean that the police constable concerned must satisfy the court, if he is challenged, on an objective basis that he had good grounds for suspicion. He does not have to satisfy the court that he was right or that the person had anything stolen. He has to satisfy the court that his suspicion was well founded to the extent of being reasonable.

Is the Minister aware that under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 more than 1,000 innocent people have been arrested on Merseyside over the past five years who have not been charged? Surely, the Bill will lead to more innocent people being arrested purely on the ground of suspicion. That will cause further bad feeling between the public and the police.

If there were any risk of that happening as a result of the clause, I could understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. However, his argument does not relate to the clause. The clause provides not the power of arrest but the power of search. The issue of charging people does not arise. That arises only if the person resists the search that the police constable has a right to make. If there is resistance, the issue arises of whether the officer had reasonable suspicion. It is only at that stage that the question arises.

Surely the Minister is demonstrating the inbuilt dangers in this measure. If someone is innocent yet the officer has in his mind reasonable suspicion and wants to search that person, difficulty will arise. If I were innocent, I should resist the search. There will be people charged who are innocent. They will be charged not with stealing or having in their possession stolen goods but with offences such as assaulting the policeman or resisting arrest. The clause is fraught with difficulties. That is why stop-and-search laws are causing so much friction between the public and the police.

I do not accept that it is fraught with difficulties. I do not accept that the hon. Gentleman has made out his case. He has said that it is fraught with difficulties, but in no sense has he proved that that is so. Therefore, I do not accept his strictures on the clause.

I am not concerned to defend the existence of the clause as a general power. That is not our concern. We are considering whether it should be applicable in the county of Merseyside. I accept that there are arguments for and against its availability throughout the country and whether it is a proper provision. I am not saying that there are no arguments to the contrary. I do not wish hon. Members to think that I am saying that it is necessarily right that there should be a general provision. Equally, I accept that there may be room for the view that if there should be such a provision it should apply throughout the country and not merely on Merseyside and in some other areas.

Similarly, if there should not be such a provision, there is a strong case for saying that it should not apply anywhere. I accept that. However, all these issues are being considered by the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. When the Royal Commission reports, we shall be able to decide whether it is right for there to be uniformity throughout the country, for which I believe there is a strong case. If there should be such uniformity, should it be reflected in the general law or in no such provision? For the moment we are dealing with the interim. The issue is what we should do about Merseyside. The right approach to adopt for Merseyside is much the same as the one that we have sought to follow in some other controversial areas. Broadly speaking, that is to maintain the status quo.

The problem with a large part of the county of Merseyside is that a provision of this sort has existed for a long time—in some cases for almost 100 years. It is not a provision that is no longer used and out of date, but it is used extensively by the police, who feel it to be necessary. Surely, it is sensible that, until a national decision is taken as to whether or not it is appropriate for such matters to carry on on a local basis, Merseyside should be allowed to carry on doing what it has done for almost 100 years, in the absence of clear evidence that that is no longer tolerable. Opposition Members have produced no such clear evidence. At the most, they have produced assertions.

I accept that if the Bill is passed in this way, the legislation will be extended over a wider geographical area than is now the case. That is unavoidable because there is no possibility for such legislation to cover Liverpool alone or the other parts of Merseyside—

If I may just finish the point, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, there is no possibility for it to cover the other parts of the county where the power exists. There has to be a Merseyside Bill. Therefore, either it is extended to the remaining parts of the county which do not have provision or it is dropped from the large parts of the county which have had the provision for almost 100 years.

The logic of that argument is precisely what an Anglican bishop who finally became a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church argued about miracles. He said that we either accept miracles entirely or not at all. That is not the position in this case. Surely, it can be written into a clause that the powers remain as they are but they are not extended. As that has not been done, the logic is that we cannot accept it.

I do not accept that that is the logic. If we are introducing legislation for Merseyside as a whole, it is not feasible to freeze the position and have a distinction between one part of a county and another Therefore, I conclude that in the absence of proven mischief as opposed to assertive mischief, and with a large part of the county having had the provision for almost 100 years, it is reasonable that it should continue and that the clause should remain in the Bill.

I concede that there is great weight in the Minister's last point. The alternative would be to require of the authorities in the area a continuing recognition in their minds of the old boundaries which, until now, they have had to retain because of the old legislation on the statute book. In the normal course of events, it is not reasonable to demand that of them, and, therefore, the situation is unsatisfactory.

We all agree that the sooner the Royal Commision on criminal procedure produces its report, the better. Then, we can make our decision on the matter and the public order review so that there is proper national-based legislation—or a decision that we do not want national-based legislation on the matter. Hon. Members who attend debates on individual local Acts go through this process every time. It is a different group of hon. Members each time. However, the Minister and I face each other on these occasions, and, therefore, I should stop telling him the same thing every time. Nevertheless, some things need to be repeated.

When we review very old local statutes, we find things that are positively horrifying. Such things would not be put into a statute now. As the statutes went through Parliament, not as Public Bills but as Private and Local Bills, they were not subjected to the rigorous scrutiny that generally applies to a general Public Act.

In 1937 a judgment was given on one of the leading cases involving "sus". "Sus" is the offence of being a suspected person and of loitering with intent. In the case of Ledwith v. Roberts there is a passage towards the end of the judgment that is worth quoting. Mr. Justice Scott was dealing with a Liverpool Act. Indeed, that Act will be almost entirely repealed by the Bill. He referred to section 513 of the Liverpool Corporation Act 1921. Mr. Justice Scott said:
"Finally, I would make one more suggestion. If the Liverpool Act of 1921, s.513, and the old London Act of 1839…create different offences and confer different powers of arrest from those of the general law of the land contained in the public statutes, it is surely time to abandon the system of such local variations, whatever may have been their justification in earlier times. To-day crime and personal liberty ought not to vary from town to town as must be the case if they are to depend on municipal variations in 'local and personal' Acts of Parliament. They ought to be the same throughout the length and breadth of the land. Why should such provisions be inserted in local Acts at all?"
The hon. Member, the Royal Commission, the Home Office review of public order and, indeed, all of us should keep that weighty opinion in our minds. I therefore repeat that we should steer ourselves in the direction of national legislation on matters that so closely touch civil liberties.

On behalf of the promoters, I hope that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) will not press the amendment to a Division. I cannot hope to cover all the allegations that have been made. However, my colleagues and I have full confidence in our police force. It does a first-class job in frequently difficult circumstances.

I shall reiterate two points. First, in the County of Merseyside Bill it is states clearly that the section shall cease to have effect on 31 December 1984. Secondly, the Royal Commission on criminal procedure has specifically invited evidence on this particular power. Obviously, one awaits those recommendations before any further discussion.

Is my hon. Friend aware also that a Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on home affairs is investigating and will be reporting on the same subject?

The House will be delighted by that news. We are comforted by the fact that my right hon. Friend will be chairing the Committee. We look forward to the conclusion of its deliberations. I hope that the hon. Member for Bootle will not press his amendment to a Division.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 74


I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 66, line 10, leave out 'a' and insert 'any'.

It will be convenient if we deal at the same time with remaining amendments in the name of the sponsor—amendments Nos. 27, 28, 18, and 19 to 26.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the number of people who have been involved in the compilation of this large Bill. The Bill brings together over 300 different local Acts. I pay tribute to the immense amount of hard work that has been done by officials in Merseyside county council and in the district councils. The House is grateful for the hard work that they have done.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 83


Amendments made: No. 27, in page 70 line 33, leave out 'on the' and insert 'as from'.

No. 28, in page 70, line 35, leave out 'as from 31st March' and insert 'on and from 1st April'.—[ Mr. David Hunt.]

Clause 92


Amendments made: No. 18, in page 76, line 32, leave out 'notice'.

No. 19, in page 76, line 33, after 'area', insert 'a notice'.—[ Mr. David Hunt.]

Clause 107


Amendment made: No. 20, in page 96, line 19, after 'up' insert 'of'.—[ Mr. David Hunt.]

Schedule 1



Amendments made: No. 21, in page 132, line 21, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this subsection'.

No.22, in page 132, line 24, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this subsection'.

No. 23, in page 133, line 37, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this section'.

No. 24, in page 133, line 38, leave out 'above' and insert 'of this section'.

No. 25, in page 133, leave out line 41 and insert—

'of this section.
  • (5B) A person contravening such a notice requiring the deferment of part of the demolition shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £500, but in any proceedings for an offence under this subsection it shall be a defence for the person charged to prove that he took all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence.'—[Mr. David Hunt.]

Schedule 5


Amendment made: No. 26, in page 148, line 13, column 2, leave out

'The whole Act except section 4'

and insert 'Section 6'.—[ Mr. David Hunt.]

Bill to be read the Third time.