THE Liverpool Echo's campaign, backed by icCheshireOnline, to oppose the proposals within the controversial Mersey Tunnel Bill, has been gathering momentum all week.
Today, the region's MPs give their views about the Bill, which if it was accepted would give operators the right to increase tolls without consultation.
A GROUP of Wirral MPs have lined up against several of their Labour colleagues in Liverpool in opposing the private bill which comes before Parliament next week which could see tunnel prices increased automatically.
Ben Chapman, Stephen Hesford and Andrew Miller have all said they are against the planned legislation, with only Frank Field on Wirral supporting it. Wallasey MP Angela Eagle and Cheshire's Halton member Derek Twigg have stayed neutral on the privately raised legislation because they are members of the government.
SUPPORTING THE MERSEY TUNNEL BILL :
Claire Curtis-Thomas, MP for Crosby , who will present the Bill in January, said: "I fully support the Mersey Tunnels Bill. I understand that the Echo is running a campaign against toll tax but I want to put this matter into perspective - any deficit on the tunnels has had to be paid by the five local authorities which appointed the tunnels authority in the first place. All this legislation will do is index link tolls and secure the future of the people who work in them.
"This is a common sense measure to avoid in the future a great waste of public funds."
Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Walton : "I am a supporter of the Bill. "It is for the benefit of all of Merseyside.
"In an ideal world I would like the tunnel debt to be written off but it is not going to happen."
Joe Benton, Labour MP for Bootle : "Last year I was prepared to support the Bill and nothing has changed. I am very much persuaded by the argument that the operators need an increased levy both to meet the running cost and also to make some in-roads into their massive debt.
"I also believe that it is in the best interests of the employees in the tunnel to stick with the present regime rather than risking it being taken over by an outside agency."
Eddie O'Hara, Labour MP for Knowsley South : "I will be supporting the Bill because it will give the operators the ability to raise the tolls by a maximum ten pence every three years which is below the inflation rate. Before this the option was that local councils, including Knowsley, were forced to pay a precept which meant that my constituents had to pay more for tunnels which most of them do not use."
AGAINST THE BILL :
Ben Chapman, Labour MP for Wirral South : "I am impeccably opposed to the Mersey Tunnels Bill.
"It represents a bad deal for motorists, local businesses and the people of Merseyside."
Andrew Miller, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston : "I cannot support proposals that would provide for automatic or semi automatic increases in tolls.
"The Bill's proposals for the index linking of the Mersey Tunnel tolls in line with inflation and the removal of the requirement to reduce tolls when the debt is repaid is an additional tax on the motorist and on local businesses."
Stephen Hesford, MP for Wirral West said: "I believe this Bill is wrong because it is asking the people of Wirral to pay ever increasing charges towards the use of the tunnels when part of the money which will be raised will be used for an entirely different purpose."
Bob Wareing, Labour MP for West Derby in Liverpool: "I do not believe in any measures which lead to privatisation or part privatisation of a public asset.
"This Bill seems to point in the direction of privatisation.
"It is likely to lead to ever higher tolls. I wish the Bill would be dropped as it has little support and absolutely no support from the Trade Unions who rightly fear eventual job losses."
Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Riverside : "I am very concerned about approving an open-ended increase in tolls which could put more traffic on alternative routes.
"I recognise the problems of commuters, especially from Wirral and I am not convinced that any extra money raised would genuinely benefit travellers.
"I will look very carefully at the evidence but at the moment I am inclined to vote against the bill."
SPLIT VIEWS/RAISED CONCERNS :
George Howarth, Knowsley North MP : "There are great concerns about this Bill. I am not so sure that it has been fully thought out. There are implications for commuters into Liverpool and I will want to see the fine print of the Bill."
Jane Kennedy, Labour MP for Wavertree : "Higher toll charges would create an extra burden on people travelling into the city.
"At a time when we are strengthening Liverpool's economy and improving the quality of life for residents it is wrong to be taxing people just to enter the city."
Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead : "I support the clause to raise tolls in line with inflation and I support noise insulation work which will protect homes close to the tunnel entrance.
"I do, however, believe any excess money should be used to reduce tolls rather than to support other transport initiatives on Merseyside."
REMAINING NEUTRAL :
Maria Eagle, Labour MP for Garston : "While I cannot comment on the specific measures contained in the Bill, I would urge Merseytravel to proceed with caution.
"My advice to Merseytravel is that they should immediately bring together different opinions around the table to reach an acceptable compromise.
"Merseytravel has to take on board concerns BEFORE the Bill begins its passage through Parliament. This is a very important issue and I congratulate the Echo on leading the debate."
Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey : "The Government must remain neutral on private Bills.
"As a Government Minister I cannot comment publically."
Dave Watts, Labour MP for St Helens North : "Merseytravel has to raise more money to run the tunnels. I can only see two options: Either the cost falls on the public purse - which would please most people on Merseyside - or they raise the tolls in line with inflation, which is what they are proposing.
"But, providing they don't put any extra cost on the council tax-payers of St Helens, as they once did, and given that few of my constituents use the tunnels, it is a matter for the MPs more directly affected and I shall not be voting either way."
Derek Twigg MP for Halton says he is unable to comment because he is a parliamentary private secretary in the Department of Transport.
Shaun Woodward, Labour MP for St Helens South said: "I want to see a balance being struck between affordable fares for tunnel users and a better-resourced public transport system for the people of Merseyside. This bill merits close scrutiny."
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