HC Deb 09 March 1977 vol 927 cc1382-3
3. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he will next preside at the Transport Council of European Ministers.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. William Rodgers)

Probably during April.

Mr. Whitehead

On that occasion, will my right hon. Friend urge his fellow Ministers to implement EEC Commission proposal 336 last year for specific Community aid for transport infrastructure? Will he bear in mind in so doing the fact that the then EEC Commissioner for Transport said that a Channel Tunnel project would be within the terms of reference of such aid?

Mr. Rodgers

Certainly I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion. I know that there has been a revival of interest in the prospect of the Channel Tunnel. If EEC funds were to be available it would be wrong not to look at it.

Mr. Costain

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate what that last statement means? A number of my constituents are having great difficulty selling houses because they can get no advice from the Government about whether the Channel Tunnel project is on or off. Will he make it clear that he has no intention of reintroducing that measure in the near future?

Mr. Rodgers

The Channel Tunnel project is clearly off in the terms in which it was discussed some years ago, but, as I told my hon. Friend, if the EEC is making proposals about infrastructure it would be discourteous of us not to look at them.

Mr. Robin F. Cook

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Council of Ministers will he reflect that he is investing less in the railway system than any of his three counterparts with equivalent population, and that he is investing no more than his opposite number in Belgium, which has one-fifth of Britain's population?

Mr. Rodgers

As my hon. Friend knows, it is easy to draw broad conclusions from narrow facts. However, I agree that the questions of investment in rail and the relationships between road and rail are suitable subjects for discussion within the Community. I have been hoping that we would be able to find time to look at them.

Mr. Norman Fowler

May I take the Secretary of State on to another problem? Is he aware that the enormous success of the British road haulage industry in developing routes overseas and in Europe, particularly to the Middle East, is now being seriously jeopardised by the difficulty of getting sufficient international permits') Will he point out to the other Ministers that this is now a major source of concern in the British road haulage industry in an area in which we would hope for and expect considerably more generous treatment from them than we have hitherto received?

Mr. Rodgers

I am happy to pay tribute to what the road hauliers have done in this respect. I do not think that their success so far has been jeopardised by problems with permits, but I agree that this is a cause of concern. However, we must understand the problems of countries with a large volume of transit vehicles, which involve substantial costs on their roads.