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Road User Charging Schemes

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list recent Government commissioned studies which have made recommendations for road user charging schemes; and if he will make a statement. [62880]

Mr. Spellar: Consultants for four Multi-Modal Studies have recommended in their Final Reports that consideration be given to the future introduction of road user charging schemes. These are the West Midlands Area MMS, West Midlands to North West MMS, North/South Movements in the East Midlands MMS and London to South West and South Wales MMS. The Final Reports are now with the respective Regional Planning Bodies who will make recommendations to Ministers. In addition the consultants carrying out the ORBIT (M25 Corridor) MMS have made provisional recommendations which include road user charging proposals.

Given the practical considerations, we do not believe that a system of inter-urban road user charging for cars could be introduced this decade; accordingly the

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Government has no plans to do so. However, this is a subject where further work and research is needed and we will revisit it when sufficient progress has been made in clarifying the technical and practical issues involved. In the meantime, we note the arguments put forward both for and against inter-urban charging and are listening to the debate.

Traffic Lights

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list the bodies responsible for the maintenance and control of traffic lights in each area of the United Kingdom, including a brief description of their (a) function and (b) statutory duties. [62873]

Mr. Spellar: The Statutory responsibility for traffic lights in England rests with the relevant traffic authority. This will be a County Council, Metropolitan District Council, or a Unitary Authority. In London, Transport for London is the traffic authority for strategic routes, London Boroughs for all other roads. However, Transport for London control all traffic lights within the London area, regardless of whether they are the traffic authority for the roads at the junction. The Highways Agency is responsible for trunk roads.

Similar arrangements apply in Scotland and Wales. The Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government are responsible for trunk roads in Scotland and Wales. Local Authorities in Scotland and Unitary Authorities in Wales are responsible for other roads.

In Northern Ireland, the Department for Regional Development is responsible for all roads.

The function and duties of traffic authorities are set out in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (RTRA 84). In the present context the authorities' general duty is

Airport (Severn Site)

Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether the Severn Side site in Monmouth will be included as an option for a new airport in the consultation document for the airport white paper. [63150]

Mr. Spellar: In advance of the consultation, I do not intend to comment on the status of any specific options as releasing information at this stage could result in unnecessary blight as well as multiplying uncertainty and anxiety. This approach is consistent with my Department's Coe of Practice on the Dissemination of Information during Major Infrastructure Developments.

Transport Council

Mr. Hood: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what the outcome was of the Transport Council meeting on 17 June; what the Government's stance was on each issue discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [63142]

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Mr. Spellar: The Transport Council was held on 17 June in Luxembourg. I represented the UK.

I was pleased to see the adoption by the Council of two directives on passenger vessel safety. The first of these requires compliance by 2015 by all Member States with the higher standards of damage stability for ro-ro passenger ships engaged on international voyages already introduced following the Estonia disaster by eight EU countries, including the UK (the XStockholm Agreement"). These requirements are complementary to the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) standard, aimed at increasing the survivability of damaged ro-ro vessels. The very large majority of UK ro-ro ferries have already been altered to comply with the Stockholm standard and those few remaining will be altered as necessary before the deadline of September 2002.

The second directive on safety of passenger ships makes a number of technical amendments to the existing Directive 98/18. I would particularly draw attention to provisions bringing into Community law the IMO rules and standards on High Speed Craft and placing a duty on Member States to encourage owners to improve accessibility to their ships for people with limited mobility.

The Council reached agreement on a Directive to open the market for the provision of services, including cargo handling and pilotage, in large and medium-sized ports. For service contracts, there will be maximum durations of 10, 15 and 36 years (plus a possible further 10 years), respectively, for services with no significant investment, services with significant investment in movable assets, and services with significant investment in immovable assets. In addition, I argued successfully for a 40 year period for new ports in the future. The agreed text includes a number of other significant changes, which meet many of the concerns we have had on the Commission's original proposals including protecting working conditions for port workers. The Commission said it would come forward with guidelines as soon as possible to address the important issue of competition between ports.

The Council did not reach agreement on a Regulation establishing a programme (the Marco Polo programme) to succeed the PACT programme for the promotion of combined transport. The Marco Polo programme would offer Community financial support for modal shift projects, with a budget of Euro 85 million and various thresholds for different types of eligible project. I joined other Member States in arguing that there should be a reduced budget.

The Commission reported on the need for further action in Europe in the field of maritime security. This would be principally within the framework of the IMO.

The Council was unable to agree Conclusions on the Commission's transport White Paper of September 2001, which proposes a range of measures to address significant issues such as congestion, safety and the environmental impact of transport. During the debate I was one of a number of Ministers to reject any reference in the Conclusions to tax harmonisation. I also referred to the need to update the existing Eurovignette Directive,

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to allow Member States to proceed with implementing distance-based charging schemes. Following the debate, the Presidency issued Conclusions.

The Council did not agree a common position on amendment of the Trans European Network Guidelines. Discussion centred principally on the new list of priority projects. More work will be done on this in preparation for consideration by Ministers during the Danish Presidency.

The Commission presented a proposal for Community accession to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the IMO. It will be seeking a mandate from the Council to negotiate with these organisations.

The Council reached agreement on a decision agreeing Community accession to the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (Eurocontrol), the pan-European body co-ordinating air traffic management. The agreement is subject to Parliamentary scrutiny reservations being lifted.

There were Presidency Conclusions noting the large degree of support among Member States for the Single European Sky and the agreement of Member States to make progress by 2004 in line with the Conclusions of the Barcelona European Council. The Conclusions also noted the importance of Eurocontrol in the process.

The Council unanimously adopted a common position on a Directive on occurrence reporting in civil aviation, establishing a common framework for dealing with safety-related incidents. There was agreement on a draft Regulation requiring Member States to provide aviation statistical returns.

The Commission presented a proposal on subsidy and unfair pricing by third country airlines, noting that some third countries had offered substantial financial support to their airlines, which had an impact on Community carriers.

The Presidency reported on discussions over lunch about aviation war-risk insurance. The Council believed that State intervention should be limited, to avoid market restriction, but that possible mutualisation schemes should be examined.

The Council reached agreement on a Directive tightening existing Community legislation on seat belt wearing. A compromise was reached on an exemption for school buses, which will last for five years. We have some concern at the lack of respect for subsidiarity in this proposal and this was made clear to the Council. In our view, it is appropriate to have a broad framework at EU level, leaving details of implementation to Member States.

The Council did not reach agreement on a regulation on ecopoints for the transit of HGVs through Austria. This would have allowed extension of the ecopoint system beyond the current expiry date of 31 December 2003, but not beyond 2006, pending the forthcoming adoption of legislation on EU-wide infrastructure charging. The Commission concluded that in 2004 the Ecopoint system would finish. The Presidency hoped that imminent high level discussions among key Member States would lead to a solution of the problem of Alpine transit.

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No formal votes were taken at this Council.

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