The UK Government are committed to the continued successful operation of these vital crossings. The Government plan to consult this autumn on the proposed halving of tolls—which would represent a massive saving for users—as well as other options, including free-flow tolling.
I thank the Minister for attending the recent meeting in this place with the Freight Transport Association to discuss the future of the Severn bridges. I know that there is to be a consultation, but there is real concern about the issue, especially now that the bridges will continue to be seen as a cash cow for the Government. May I reiterate that we want the bridge tolls to come down further and an assurance that when they return to public ownership they stay that way?
I very much enjoyed that meeting and hearing the views of businesses in Wales and of Welsh Members. The concession will finish when £1.029 billion is returned from tolls to the public purse. We expect that to happen sometime in early 2018. We are working on the plans that will follow that transition. We will consult more broadly, but I entirely agree that keeping the tolls low will help businesses in the area.
I have a large number of haulage and private contract hire companies in my constituency, many of which trade across the whole of the UK. They are very concerned that the consultation is not just a paper exercise and that the Minister is listening. Once the tolls have paid off the cost of the bridge, will he consider handing it over to the Welsh Assembly to manage?
The bridges are primarily in England, so that is an interesting Welsh land grab. As regards listening to the voice of businesses, if I was not listening to the voice of business, I would not have attended the meeting that was arranged by the hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) with the Freight Transport Association.