European Transport Policy

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Mr. Spellar: The paragraph to which the hon. Gentleman refers says that the Uff-Cullen inquirynot the Commissionrecommends that the European train control system should be fitted to all 100 mph lines in the UK by 2008. In that context it is important to note that the directives do not require works to be undertaken to comply with the standards. The obligations arise only when projects involving new work or renovations are undertaken. The wording does not say that those protections must be put into existing systems by a particular date. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it is a case of deciding on the appropriate safety requirement and looking at the benefits compared with the costs and comparing that with other parts of the rail system to ensure safety. The more prescriptive requirement comes from Cullen, rather than from the Commission.

Lawrie Quinn: I refer to the map on page 57 of the Commission's White Paper, entitled ''Potential 'specific' projects''. When my hon. Friend the Member for Burton asked whether a review of some of the schemes was envisaged, my right hon. Friend replied that there would be one in 2004. On careful study of the map, the only project that would seem to have any impact on the UK is the Galileo satellite project, which appears on the map as a little satellite hovering over the Arctic circle. What is the UK position on the Galileo satellite project and does my right hon. Friend envisage other UK projects appearing on the map sometime after the review period?

Mr. Spellar: Taking the second point first, as I said earlier, one of the difficulties with the trans-European network projects is that, understandably, they are focused on areas that deal with through traffic between member states. Geographically that does not apply nearly as much to us as it does to the routes through Austria and those up to the Alps and across the Pyrenees.

Along with a number of other countries we have been posing questions about Galileo. We have already made some progress such as on the involvement of private companies in the commissioning agencies and therefore on the question of conflicts of interest between those who are involved in the project specification and direction as opposed to those who will contract to provide the service. There is also a question whether that should be for civilian purposes only, which is a concern of NATO. NATO works on global positioning system interoperability, and it is enormously important that that remains the military

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standard in terms of both military effectiveness and the sheer cost of replacing equipment.

The final question concerns the project's cost and where that will be borne. As my hon. Friend knows, the project is part of the trans-European network funding. The question is whether there will be transparency, visibility and limits on levels of expenditure. Will there be a clear view of the benefits and the charges that may be made for them? In other words, how will an income stream be generated for the operation of the system? Some of those questions have already been resolved satisfactorily and others were briefly discussed in the margins of the Finance Ministers' meeting. No doubt we shall return to those questions at the Transport Ministers' Council later this month. We have made considerable progress, and we may be able to go ahead at the next meeting, but we need to get some final details sorted out.

The Chairman: Order. That brings us to the end of the time allotted to questions. Before I call the Minister to move his motion, I inform the Committee that I have selected the amendment tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), but I call on the Minister to move the substantive motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That the Committee takes note of European Union documents No. 11932/01, Commission White Paper: European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide, and No. 12597/01, draft decision of the European Parliament and of the Council amending decision No. 1692/96/EC on Community guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network; and endorses the Government's approach to discussions on these documents.[Mr. Spellar.]

11.31 am

Mr. Pickles: I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, in line 5, leave out from ''network;'' to end and add

    'endorses the criticisms made of the White Paper by the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee in its Fifth Report (HC, 2001--02, 556) on the White Paper; notes the Committee's conclusions that, if the proposals in the White Paper were to be implemented, they would incur additional expenditure for little, if any, benefit and would have very serious consequences for transport policy in the United Kingdom; and accordingly calls on Ministers to incorporate the recommendations and conclusions of the Report in discussions on the White Paper in the Council of Ministers'.

There have been questions about the whereabouts of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York, the hon. Member for Normanton and other members of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The answer is that they are engaged on parliamentary business outside this country. It is a matter of some regret that we are debating something this important but have been denied the presence of members of that Select Committee.

Lawrie Quinn rose

Mr. Pickles: Ah, I beg your pardon. It is nice to see a member of that Select Committee. We are all the better for the hon. Gentleman's presence and it is wonderful to have him here.

Lawrie Quinn: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to misinform the Committee. The hon.

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Member for Vale of York is in Committee two Doors down the Corridor from this Room. She is not out of the country and he may want to correct that statement.

Mr. Pickles: I blush with embarrassment and withdraw my remarks. I feel a great void opening before me as I disappear through a trap door.

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman is blushing in embarrassment. Shoot the wounded!

Mr. Pickles: In my case, it is question of bayoneting the wounded.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles: I am much too embarrassed now; do not rub it in.

It is a great pleasure to have you in the Chair, Mr. Hurst. A new Chairman is like visiting someone's constituency; one wants to heap on the praise to the point that the recipient almost feels physically sick. I am pleased to say that the Committee has not let us down this afternoon.

The Minister was wise to make it clear that we will continue to drive on the left side of the road. I was inexperienced in my Bradford days and a radio station persuaded me to announce on 1 April that, as our salute to the European Union, we would all drive on the right within the boundaries of Bradford. The phone banks were almost ripped off at city hall and I had to go in at lunch time to say that that would apply only to heavy goods vehicles.

I want to refer to something that is not in the White Paperthe fact that it is not included is almost glaring. There are many references to different modes of transportation such as trains, buses and trolley buses. If this were ''Who Wants to be a Millionaire?'' and the question was ''What mode of travel do people in Europe use more than trolley buses?'', the answer would be motor bikes, yet there is not a single mention of motor bikes in the White Paper. That is extraordinary, particularly if one considers the enormous importance of motor cycles in southern parts of Europe.

I have had the benefit of a brief from my colleagues in the European Parliament and I will read from it shortly. The White Paper contains about 60 proposals. Strangely, most of them are centred on rail, although the Commission seeks to promote sustainability and intermodality. Conservatives believe that the policy approach is not sufficiently balanced, because it focuses on a single mode of travel. The paper seeks to extend rail's market share of passenger traffic from 6 per cent. to 15 per cent. and goods from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent.

The paper cites the haulage structure of the United States as a comparable model for the EU, which strikes me as a little whacky, to say the least. It suggests that in the United States total haulage accounts for 40 per cent. of movements. The brief says that

    ''the Conservatives have reservations about the validity of this comparison.''

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That is a polite way of putting it. The Minister must be thinking about EU expansion, because I cannot imagine any way to achieve 40 per cent. without going beyond the Ural mountains and into the tundra. Some of the aspirations are wholly unrealistic and I agree with many of the concerns and recommendations of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

The Minister referred to Fréthun. The situation is appalling. The haulage companies using that depot can go through the channel tunnel only by using Eurotunnel's shuttle facilities. I am a bit reluctant to say this, because the Minister is obviously suffering physically from a cold and I do not want to cause his blood pressure to rise, but the Government have been useless in the matter. They have been warned repeatedly that the situation is getting worse, but have done practically nothing. As recently as last week, I asked on the Floor of the House during oral questions about Fréthun and, with due respect to the junior Minister, was brushed off with a particularly silly answer that referred wholly to people travelling on Eurostar.

I am angry about the situation because it allows a coach and horses to be driven through the European White Paper[Interruption.] No pun was intended. It will take an enormous amount of time to recover confidence in the service. We know the damage that Scotland has suffered because of the problem: a freight terminal has closed and is unlikely to reopen and business has completely lost confidence in cross-channel freight. English, Welsh and Scottish Railways has lost £6 million in the past few weeks and Scottish whisky will no longer cross the channel through the tunnel.

When I was a member of the then Transport Select Committee, we discussed using the tunnel for freight services. We heard from several experts from, I believe, English, Welsh and Scottish Railways, who said that it was not worth while taking freight through the tunnel until one could undertake a journey that passed on through the Alps or the Pyrenees. Since that timeabout four or five years agomatters have improved and there have been changes in the charging regime. The reason for the mess is that the potential for future growth has gone. People would be very brave to take that route. As a result, there will be an increase in road transport going through Kent and more large lorries travelling through northern France and Belgium.

We are caught in the middle of a great power struggle between SNCF and the French Government. Anyone could see that that fence was useless; it was only 9 m high and not very strong. It was torn down the week before last and demolished during the weekend. The warnings were there. What is the point of spending time producing documents such as the White Paper if we cannot get something as simple as that right? It is good that French railways are in discussions with the French Government and that they feel a degree of embarrassment. If a higher fence and an increased police presence had been in place before Christmas, we would not have such problems now. I

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look forward to the Minister's response. Without being nasty or personal, this country has not done enough to press the French Government. That is to the detriment of this sort of White Paper initiative: it has become meaningless.

The second point that I want to raise concerns freight, and I particularly take on board the interesting exchanges on the train protection system. That is one of the most difficult matters that the Government have to determine. We frequently talk about safety, but such systems offer us an opportunity of additional capacity on the railways. I recognise how expensive they are, but if we are to increase capacity they are necessary. As far as I understand it, we will need to move block signalling so that trains can travel safely when closer together. That seems a sensible idea, but there is a substantial difference between moving freight on the continent and doing so in Britain. In this country freight shares rails, but there is a degree of separation in northern France.

If the United Kingdom is going to move towards the figures laid out in the White Paper, I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on an important step. He will recall that last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) asked a question about freight. He pointed out that about 43 per cent. of all freight movements take place on the west coast. Given that fact, the Government and the Strategic Rail Authority must make a decision on the mixture of freight and passenger trains. Before October, a deal was on the table that referred to a minimum of 42 freight trains a day. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify whether we are talking about 42 a day, or a greater or lesser figure.

The Commission desires liberalisation of the rail regime and speaks of a need to speed up liberalisation:

    ''The Council asks the Commission to put forward its proposals as soon as possible . . . to achieve a fully operational internal market.''

If that is the case, there are enormous implications, especially for the competition rules.

The Minister will have seen much press speculation at the weekend that Britain could resort to requesting Brussels to bend the EU rules on state aid to companies so that it could secure future bank loans for Railtrack. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm or deny that the Government are looking for a guarantee of loans of £5.5 billion for Railtrack, subject to the procedures set out in the White Paper.

On the problems with road haulage, I hope that what I say will not damage the Minister's careerperhaps we can strike this from the record, as I see that the Whip is not happy.

 
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