Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the Ireland-UK-Benelux road link project consists of a number of schemes which are in the road programmes of the Department of Transport, the Welsh Office and the Scottish Office and which are at varying states of readiness. From this tranche of funds from TENs approximately £1.6 million in funding was obtained for this route in 1995.

Viscount Mersey: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong. Am I right to understand that two routes were planned from Felixstowe, one to finish at Fishguard and the other to end at Holyhead? Is not there also a fast route planned from Stranraer down to the M.6 at Carlisle? Does my noble friend have any more specific details on those three schemes?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. I should like to answer him fully. The priority projects for the United Kingdom will receive some £22 million, which is just over 15 per cent. of the total funds available for priority projects in 1995 and more than any other member state will receive from the EC fund. In addition to the £7 million for the west coast main line, the Channel Tunnel rail link will receive £13.6 million and schemes along the Ireland-UK-Benelux road link will receive a further £1.6 million. The United Kingdom will also receive another £360,000 for road traffic management.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, were very appropriate for the part of the world from which I come? Is he aware that there was great argument 30 years ago about the Channel Tunnel and a great deal of support came from the north of England, Wales and Scotland because it was believed that it would break down the barrier so that industrial goods and railway passengers could take a route straight down from Scotland and those other areas right to the heart of Europe? If the idea of the Channel Tunnel had merely been to enrich the south east of England, it would not have been well accepted.

Could I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware of the recent Motion carried in the European Parliament debate on the grand European network? That Motion

11 Dec 1995 : Column 1097

stressed the need for top environmental standards and emphasised the importance of upgrading the west coast line which serves the Midlands, north-east England and Scotland. Can he also tell us the Government's view of the amendment which was carried requiring that a minimum of 40 per cent. of investment should be in railways and no more than 25 per cent. in roads? Have the Government considered that Motion which was carried in the European Parliament?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I cannot answer the exact question asked by the noble Lord. An efficient transport infrastructure is essential to national competitiveness. The road network is at the heart of our infrastructure, but the size and content of a national road programme must take account of the Government's overall policy and circumstances. We must contribute to the Government's commitment to keep a firm control on expenditure.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is my noble friend able to confirm that the Channel Tunnel was in fact built without any help from Brussels? Also, are not the projects addressed by the Question more the fruit of European corporatist ambitions to rebuild their economy after the distress brought by socialist policies? Finally, can he confirm that the cost involved is £110,000 million and say how much of that the United Kingdom is expected to spend?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the Channel Tunnel was funded exclusively from private funds. The UK supports the objective of Article 129 of the Maastricht Treaty to realise the benefits of an efficient single market by developing networks in transport, telecoms and energy infrastructure.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, can the noble Earl confirm that scope exists for private, public and European investment? It is necessary for the strategy of this country to be in tune with that of the Continent so that we have the benefit of an integrated--if that is the right term--transport system that will benefit the economy of the whole of western Europe.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, Article 129c of the Maastricht Treaty states that:

    "The Community ... may support ... projects of common interest financed by Member States".
The Commission and member states agreed that the intention was to support large infrastructure projects of common interest whether they were provided by the public sector or solely or jointly by the private sector.

BBC World Service

2.52 p.m.

Lord Donoughue asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What will be the effect of the proposed cuts to the budget of the BBC World Service.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, the reductions to the World Service were almost entirely to its capital allocation. The private finance initiative offers scope to

11 Dec 1995 : Column 1098

make that up through greater use of private sector finance and expertise. There is also scope for greater efficiencies. The BBC World Service is a superb asset and will remain the world's leading international radio broadcaster. Meanwhile, BBC World TV News is growing rapidly, at no cost to the taxpayer.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, though he failed to come clean. The reduction must mean cuts in services because it involves a massive 20 per cent. cut in capital this year and further big cuts in both operating and capital next year in complete breach of the 1994 triennial agreement with the BBC. Is the Minister aware that one of his noble friends, when reflecting on his distinguished period as Foreign Secretary, concluded,

    "When I was Foreign Secretary, I was told I had to save money on the Overseas Service of the BBC. I think that was really totally counter-productive and the money saved was trivial compared to the amount of damage done".
Does the Minister disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that the reductions are the most foolish and false of economies?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we have done everything possible to keep the reductions to a minimum. Next year's percentage reduction is lower than that of the Foreign Office--3.1 per cent. compared with 7 per cent. for the Foreign Office as a whole.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, does the Minister realise that the importance of the World Service is that it is broadcast to 100 million listeners in foreign languages which most of our diplomats do not understand? It would be a great deal better to cut the diplomats, who are fairly useless in trade terms, and substitute for them the World Service. That would cost around £5 million a year and save us supporting a lot of diplomats who do not add much to the price of tea.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, it is for the World Service to decide on the optimum mix of languages in consultation with the Foreign Office. We are confident that the World Service can maintain its essential front-line activity and further increase its audience penetration through the use of the private finance initiative.

Lord Renton: My Lords, bearing in mind that the World Service makes a major contribution to international understanding and in doing so enhances the reputation of this country, can my noble friend confirm that the reductions will not in any way impair the service but there is simply a different way of financing it?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It is merely an alternative method of financing the service.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I do not often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, but on this occasion I believe that he almost got it right? I agree with the Minister that the BBC World Service is superb, and widely recognised as such throughout the world. But if there must be a cut, would it not have been

11 Dec 1995 : Column 1099

better, in terms of value for money, for there to have been a modest cut of the same size in the Foreign Office budget rather than in the budget of the World Service?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I agree that the World Service is a superb asset. There is no question of that. However, I pointed out that while there was a 3.1 per cent. cut in the World Service budget, there was a 7 per cent. cut overall for the Foreign Office.

Lord Elton: My Lords, as someone who has been stopped no less than six times in the streets of Hangzhou by Chinese anxious to practise the very good English that they learnt from the BBC World Service, nevertheless, will my noble friend entirely discount the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford? Over the 23 years that I have been travelling abroad commercially, I have recognised an astonishing improvement in the service of the Foreign Office which is now second to none in the world.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I welcome that comment. We believe that the Foreign Office is doing an excellent job backed up by the BBC World Service.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest in that a member of my family works for the World Service. But are not the Government going back on a contract entered into by them with the World Service? Was not there an agreement 10 years ago between the Foreign Office and the Treasury on the one side and the World Service on the other, to carry out the funding on a three-year basis? Have not the Government unilaterally reneged on the final year of the present triennium and are they not setting the figure for the first year of the next triennium unilaterally without negotiation?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page