European Transport Policy

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Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): I am just listening.

Mr. Pickles: I know.

I was very heartened at what the Minister said about the relationship between the working time directive and the regulations before us. It is important that we stick to the 10-hour rule for night working. That is particularly important to the distribution industry, given the physical location of

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hubs in this country. If we moved to eight or nine hours, we would be looking at considerable costs for the industryin some cases estimated at 5 billion a year, including productivity problems. The side effects might include an increase in traffic at peak times and a reduction in drivers' pay. We look forward to the Minister being robust on that and on the training directive, when it comes.

We have concerns about aviation. We support what the Minister said about the mix of military and commercial, but are concerned about a single European sky and Eurocontrol. That is not a gut worry about Johnny Foreigner controlling our airspace; it is concern for national interests, especially about the EU discouraging mergers of non-EU airlines. My understanding is that the Government remain fully committed to open competition and open skies. We are very concerned to find ourselves trying to bolster up a pan-European airline industry that, compared with the British airline industry, is very ineffective. We do not believe that that is a problem with air traffic control, but there are the practical dangers of UK air traffic control becoming burdened with inappropriate regulations to protect vested interests in less efficient systems in other member states.

We are also concerned that there is no political evidence that if we give up control of our airspace we shall have more influence than at present. Clearly, we are in a key position regarding Atlantic routes. We are worried that we might end up in a less strong negotiating position because of Eurocontrol.

It has become impossible for us to continue to argue that the UK should control air service agreements with third countries and landing slots in UK airports. We saw an interesting development in late January when the bilaterals essentially collapsed over the British Airways-American Airlines deal. We are worried that part of the aim is to repeat open competition for a system of regulated airline alliances that could turn into cartels.

We recognise that airlines are going through a particularly difficult patch, but as the Minister said, in a few short weeks we shall begin to examine regional airports, some of which are near to where you, Mr. Hurst, and I livewe will have a particular interest. We must also recognise that things are changing across Europe and that by the end of the decade Charles de Gaulle is likely to be the number one hub in Europe. We will be fighting for second or third place.

There is no doubt about the economic impact and importance of airlines in generating jobs. Interesting economic arguments can be made about interlining at hubs. I am firmly of the view that a hub would ensure that additional calls would be made in other countries. Theoretically, it could make the difference between three flights a day and six flights a day to Tokyo. We must ensure that we have importance as a hub, because that will be immensely important to the British economy.

11.51 am

Dr. Pugh: I am a member of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions

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and, contrary to the comments of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), I am not out of the country. In the main, the Select Committee has examined how Japan has managed its ports and how it has tried to get more people to travel by tube.

The hon. Member for Vale of York told me that she intended to speak today, but unhappily she has been unable to do so. I am therefore here to represent what I think is the unanimous opinion of the Select Committee. I apologise in advance to those Select Committee members who are here: if the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) were present, she would have made these remarks herself and I am sorry that I cannot rival her customary charm and bonhomie.

To emphasise some concerns of the Select Committee, which I hope that the Minister will take on board, I shall briefly rehearse the thrust of the amendments. One worry, which has already been voiced, is that the White Paper does not fit full square with the 10-year plan. Serious consideration should be given to how it could fit. A disappointment for the Committee is that although a great deal of thought has been given in the White Paper to reducing traffic demand, long distance transport and the unnecessary journeys that people make have not been sufficiently examined. The paper assumes that everything will carry on much as before, although it may be mitigated to an extent. Members of the Select Committee thought that unambitious. Other areas, such as social exclusion and the people who do not have access to a fast Mercedes to go down the autobahn, appear to have been relatively untouched.

Interoperability also concerns the Select Committee. In general, all of us favour interoperability and we do not want to stand in second place when safety is at issue, but the Committee felt that an element of common sense should be applied, because costs can be significanta minimum job could be 1.5 billion, 3 billion or other astronomic figures. We do not know what the costs will be. The Committee's plea is to take on board common-sense considerations, as well as the principle of subsidiarity and the need for dovetailing with the 10-year transport plan.

The White Paper refers to the European railway agency. There is concern that there may be conflict and duplication and a suspicion that the agency may develop into something more than an advisory body. That must be clarified. The Select Committee favoured best practice as a mechanism for progress instead of another tier of bureaucracy.

A fundamental consideration for the Select Committee was harmonisation of diesel tax. That is fundamental because it would lead to lower duty in this country and an increase in road freight. Given the general bias and the feeling that there must be a shift to rail freight, that is a serious consideration.

Equally serious is road safety, to which insufficient attention is paideach year in Europe, around 40,000 people are killed and there are 1.7 million casualties, which represents an enormous amount of public and private suffering. The White Paper includes schemes

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and ambitions, but none represents a practical or feasible means of reducing those figures. The best proposal is for harmonisation of road signs on major intercontinental routes, but that is not the same as spreading best practice throughout Europe.

On a more minor issue, the White Paper praised the possible benefit of using inland waterways, but that was not coupled with plans to support the structure of inland waterways. They are a forgotten boon in this country because they are underused, but significant investment would be required to make them better used.

There are many suggestions in the White Paper, but most are not costed and it disregards existing funding plans in individual countries. It is heavy on aspiration, but would generate problems because its impact would be inconsistent and distort the 10-year transport plan that we all support in this country. The White Paper is short on ambition and lacks coherence with some national plans. If the Minister were mindful of those problems and pursued them at a higher level, the Select Committee would be pleased to hear his response.

11.58 am

Mr. Francois: I apologise to the Committee if I have to leave a little early. I have a long-standing commitment to meet members of the British Ports Association. It is a transport-related organisation, so I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I am not present for the whole of his reply.

I am tempted to follow up the point about Galileo. I have visions of a Galileo satellite in synchronous orbit above the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, but I shall focus on two specific matters and try to be brief.

First, I want to follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar about freight. I accept that SNCF is having some difficulty, but I suspect that English, Welsh and Scottish Railway is suffering much more pain. It is a major issue and we need serious action.

It seems to be generally agreed that the diversion of freight traffic from road to rail should be encouraged and there has been much discussion about that. If that is so, clearly we cannot allow the situation to continue much longer because we cannot possibly encourage people to change from one mode of freight transport to another if they are faced with such problems. That will only encourage people to move freight by road and air rather than rail.

I share the view that the United Kingdom Government have not done enough to press the French Government to take decisive action on the problem. I echo the call for the UK Government to take the issue more seriously and increase their efforts to persuade our French partners to do something decisive and do it quickly. The longer the problem continues, the more it will dent future efforts to persuade people to move freight traffic on to the railways. That is a serious issue.

I serve on the Environmental Audit Committee and we spend much time considering sustainable

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development. Therefore, I was particularly taken by paragraph 10 of the Select Committee report:

    ''We are dismayed that the Commission does not aim to reduce the need for people and goods to travel long distances, merely to reduce the dependence on more environmentally damaging forms of transport. Decisive action is required now to reduce demand. The Commission has failed to formulate an implementable sustainable transport policy, which should include the integration of transport and land-use planning to reduce the need to travel.''

Wearing my sustainable development hat, as it were, I believe that issue to be important. Our amendment calls for Ministers to incorporate the recommendations and conclusions of the report in discussions on the White Paper in the Council of Ministers. I urge the Minister, even if he is not minded to accept our amendment in its entirety, to take that point on board, and to use his good offices to ensure that the issue is raised when discussions take place in the Council.

12.01 pm

 
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Prepared 13 March 2002