HC Deb 13 December 1983 vol 50 cc946-62 11.21 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mrs. Lynda Chalker)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the European Community Document No. 8922/83 setting out proposals for financial support for a multi-annual programme for transport infrastructure; and welcomes the views set out in the Secretary of State for Transport's Explanatory Memorandum of 14th October. We are glad to debate this measure. The proposal on which the Scrutiny Committee has asked for a debate has, as the House knows, three main aims. First, it seeks to settle the distribution of 15 million ECU — about £8 million — allocated to transport infrastructure support from the 1983 budget. Secondly, it proposes the Council's agreement to a list of projects for possible support from 1984 funds, from which the Commission would later make selections. Thirdly, it provides machinery for the Council to agree lists of projects in the years 1985 to 1987, from which the Commission would also make choices. If accepted, the proposal would give the Commission the right to decide the form and level of aid for each project it supported, subject only to this not exceeding 70 per cent. of the total cost for each project helped.

In short, this is a mixed measure. It is less ambitious than the earlier proposals of 1976, which would have bound EC members indefinitely to spending of this kind and settled appropriate procedures and criteria. But it is considerably more far-reaching than the one-year regulation agreed in 1982, which settled the spending of 10 million ECU — about £5.5 million — from budget funds for that year but made no attempt to legislate for the future.

There is a strong case against a five-year regulation. The motion invites the House to note these proposals arid to support the Government's views on them as set Out in the explanatory memorandum of 14 October last.

The most important point was our firm opposition to any provisions looking beyond 1984. Neither the level of funding nor the projects which the Council would wish to support in 1985 to 1987 can possibly be known with any certainty for some time ahead. The Government see no point in legislating to cover so very uncertain a future when other incidents may cause us to give different priorities closer to the dates concerned.

The Select Committee on Transport has adopted a guarded approach which I think all hon. Members understand. When it reported on this subject in May 1980 it urged the Government to proceed with great care and, in particular, to enter into no binding commitments which might work to this country's long-term disadvantage—a view with which the Government agree.

The Select Committee also saw the potential merit of new non-agricultural funds but was deeply sceptical about the prospects of containing and proportionately reducing spending on the common agricultural policy. It therefore thought—rightly, as events have since proved—that the total Community funds likely to be available in the next few years would be far too small to contribute significantly to reducing our net contribution to the EC budget. It therefore saw no advantage in rushing into an early agreement, especially as the terms then proposed were far too cryptic and opaque to make it clear how the balance of benefits to members was likely to be distributed. The Government agreed with the Select Committee on all those points.

With the Athens summit fresh in all our minds, I need hardly remind the House how very much more acute the wider problems to which the Select Committee pointed have since become. So long as effective solutions to those problems are not found, the availability of significant funds for transport infrastructure in future years must be seen as even more uncertain and unpromising than before. From a transport point of view I personally find that hard, but we must get our priorities right, as I suspect the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will agree.

The Government's view is therefore that we must continue to resist any EC proposal on transport infrastructure support which seeks to bind member states further ahead in time than makes sense in the light of the Community's current political and financial realities. In other words, we wish to adopt a step-by-step approach, confirming only so far as we have some direct feel ahead. I am glad to say that most other EC members are of the same mind and that the Transport Council discussion which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attended on 1 December showed little support for provisions covering 1985 to 1987. I hope that the House will welcome that realistic approach as much as I do.

I must also mention certain other important issues. First, the Select Committee was especially keen that the criteria for selection of projects and appraisal of Community interests should be better defined. It wished to secure inclusion of sea and air as well as inland schemes and to guard as far as possible against disturbance to our national spending priorities, which it saw as acceptable only when it offered clear overall national advantage. The Government agree closely with the Select Committee's view on minimising the disturbance to national priorities and we shall keep this steadily in view in considering any particular case that we might propose for support.

We have been able to make useful progress in the past couple of years on methods of project appraisal. We especially welcome the fact that there is now general agreement to concentrate support on cases from which substantial economic benefit can be expected. We also start from national appraisals of particular schemes, adjusted as appropriate to secure consistency in the methods operated by the various member states.

Appraisal can be complete only when we all understand what we mean by "Community interest". Unless, as in 1982, the selection of the cases and the levels of aid for each can be settled pragmatically, some clear-cut criteria are needed to establish what constitutes so-called "Community interest", and this is not particularly easy to do.

The Commission has attempted to do this in the proposals now before the House. The attempt is a good deal closer to satisfying the objectives than the 1976 text, though, as the explanatory memorandum of 14 October indicates, we have a few, though significant, reservations. The criteria nevertheless are vague and the present draft would allow a large amount of discretion to the Commission on the schemes it could select. We do not find this satisfactory and we would like to see decisions firmly in the hands of the Council of Ministers.

The House ought to know that, although we have pressed at every opportunity for firm agreement on the inclusion of sea and air schemes and, indeed, secured the sustained support of several other members on this issue, there is a tenacious minority view in favour of confining support to inland schemes. There is a need to have legal unanimity. Therefore, since this tenacious minority has not yet been shifted from its view, we are unlikely in the short term to progress to our point of view.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

My hon. Friend said that the Government would like the Council of Ministers to make the determinations on these matters. Can she tell me what resources, what expert advice and what facilities are available to the Council of Ministers to make a value judgment on the respective merits of road schemes in Greece and roadways in Britain?

Mrs. Chalker

Each country has its own assessment of importance. While one sometimes believes in looking at the presentation of schemes when they are discussed, and this may be a little subjective rather than objective, there is a general review by the Commission of what achievement in economic terms such a scheme might make. That one would accept the view of the Commission without debate is, I think, very unlikely, but I for one, on any of the schemes with which we have had anything to do, have tried to ask the questions that would fit the economic benefit of such a scheme into the same sort of criteria as we apply in the House to our own schemes. The ability of the Commission to do that work for itself without sharing the knowledge with members of the Council is what we are questioning. That the Council of Ministers may make more progress on some of these Community matters than the Commission seems to be making in transport matters at present is something which we all believe to be very important.

Mr. Taylor

If this proposal goes ahead, my hon. Friend may shortly have to sit down in the Council of Ministers and make a decision on whether more importance should be given to the road link from Athens to the Peloponnes or to the improvement of the Nuremberg marshalling yards. I wonder how she and the others sitting round the table get the information to make an assessment on whether the improvement of the Nuremberg marshalling yards is more important to the Community than, say, the road link from Athens to the Peloponnes.

Mrs. Chalker

We are fairly thoroughly briefed on such matters before we attend the Council of Ministers meeting. We are briefed by our own civil servants, who may not in all cases be experts in what goes on in the Peloponnes, but, from the criteria which each country uses for its own schemes, they may have a better chance than a Minister without the aid of a fairly thorough briefing of reaching a judgment.

There is always the possibility, through our permanent representatives, of finding out more about the schemes if insufficient information was provided initially. As my hon. Friend will know, we must rely to some extent on the briefing by officials, but, having done something of that nature once, we learn whom to ask and what questions to ask. Sometimes we do not make progress because we do not receive the right answers, and so we do not agree to schemes going ahead.

The Government will try to register the point on project appraisal with all members. Simply because we do not agree common criteria, we could not oppose any short-term proposals that offer a net benefit. I am sure that the House would not wish me to turn down a net benefit for Britain simply because all the nations had not agreed watertight criteria.

Because we are looking for net benefits in the short term, we have spent a long time discussing the years 1983 and 1984. Current discussion in Brussels is firmly focused on provisions for 1983 and 1984, and not beyond. We shall certainly not agree to any criteria which would prejudice the prospects for that. It is especially important to secure wording which reflects, as does the text before us tonight, the interests of peripheral members and the need to link the whole Community more closely together.

We have not always taken sufficient account of the role played—sometimes negatively for the older members of the Community—by some of the newer members. The newest member obviously has special problems.

We shall be resuming discussion at the next Transport Council on Tuesday 20 December. While we will not necessarily complete the discussion, we believe it right to pursue our current objective to achieve as firm a decision as possible for 1984, as well as for 1983, on the basis that we should then be making some progress that would supply us with a net benefit over the two years taken together.

We shall also be working, in broad agreement with most other members, for a considerably lower percentage ceiling of support for each project than the Commission has proposed, towards concentrating decision-making much more substantially in the hands of the Council, and pressing the case for unanimity at that level. I believe that we shall achieve that, but we must talk about it in the Council and have the full facts before the Council first.

Beyond the short term, we shall continue to approach Community transport infrastructure support as constructively as we can in all the current circumstances, but our policy must also, as it has done hitherto, pay close regard to the national interests—very much in the spirit of the Select Committee's valuable report in 1980.

I hope the House will conclude that it can support tonight's motion on the basis of this account of the main factors that influence our current policies.

11.38 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

The House is grateful to the Minister for her customarily lucid explanation of the motion before us. Her remarks about the future drift of Community policy were uncharacteristically pessimistic. There was a typically robust intervention from the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). As it is fairly late at night, we do not want to fight the battles that were fought in the previous debate on the London Regional Transport Bill.

I thought that the Minister's reply to her hon. Friend was, for her, less than satisfactory.

Mrs. Chalker

It was honest.

Mr. Snape

The fact that it was honest did not make it any more satisfactory. I was not implying that it was anything but honest; it is just that I thought that the hon. Lady was uncharacteristically pessimistic about future Community projects.

I approach this debate in the hope that our deliberations will enable the Secretary of State to gauge the views of hon. Members before his meeting with other EC transport Ministers on 20 December. The Opposition take no great exception to the proposals outlined in this measure. The expenditure that is proposed, at least for the Community, is on a comparatively small scale and there could even be marginal benefits for the United Kingdom resulting from it. Any influence that the Minister can exert to expand those benefits for this country will be heartily welcome.

At the same 20 December meeting the Council of Transport Ministers will, I understand, discuss Commission proposals for the liberalisation of road haulage. The Commission's long-standing objective, the House will be aware, has been to carry forward that process of liberalisation, and that position will doubtless be supported by the British Government. To be fair—I trust that hon. Members will agree that I like to be fair in these matters — that attitude, though I may not have agreed with it, has been adopted by successive British Governments, Labour and Conservative, though without this House giving that policy a great deal of scrutiny.

I shall return to the question of the general drift of Community policy on the road-rail balance later in my remarks. First, dealing with the proposals before us, I have a few tentative recommendations to make to the Minister about the way in which their application could be improved.

Last year the Community was able to spend 10 million ECU—a dreadful word that does not mean anything to the majority of people—or about £5 million on three projects: contributing to the construction of marshalling facilities, to road projects in Greece, and to a feasibility study into means of financing the Channel tunnel. Now the Commission is proposing expenditure of 15 million ECU in respect of the 1983 budget, although regrettably—the hon. Member for Southend, East made this point—no United Kingdom projects are included in the proposals. Why do projects in other countries seem to command greater priority than projects in the United Kingdom?

Without wishing to open old wounds, I must say that, as Britain is the greatest net contributor to the EC, it is not unreasonable to expect that this country might be included in some of the projects. That has not been the case in 1983. Meanwhile, in 1984 greater expenditure, of 60 million ECU, is envisaged for a pool of projects which included things like the development of north-south road ard rail links in Greece, the European north-west, south-east transit axis—that scheme being dependent, I understand, on the conclusion of negotiations with Austria— and a number of road, rail and waterway projects elsewhere in the Community.

From the British point of view, those could involve expenditure on the M25 London orbital motorway or improving rail access to Harwich and its port installations. But, as we heard from the Minister, there are no guarantees that the expenditure will be made in the United Kingdom. One reason for that may be the approach that the Government adopt. While the Minister properly says that we look at short-term rolling programmes for such projects, it is surely not unreasonable for the Opposition to ask that the Government — being the committed member of the EC that they are—should pursue sonic long-term projects on transport infrastructure and have a debate with our fellow members of the Community about the long-term desirability of some projects, including their long-term financing, from the allocation of expenditure on transport infrastructure within the EC.

I shall refer to the Commission's policy paper of earlier this year on transport infrastructure investment, Command (83) 58 final, in which the Commission announced that it would be in accord with the recommendation of the European Parliament and the Commission's policy if the use of criteria for the application of Community instruments gave emphasis to proposals designed to transfer traffic from road to rail where this is economically justified. In the short term that surely argues in favour of the Government staking a claim for expenditure on improving rail access to the port of Harwich. If the hon. Lady replies, will she tell the House whether the Government intend to pursue that project at the meeting next week?

The Government must not neglect the longer-term potential for Community investment in Britain's railways. The Commission, through Mr. Frohnmeyer, recently identified three areas in which it sees an important future role for railways. On 26 September, Mr. Frohnmeyer of the EC transport commission spoke at a transport 2000 conference on "The future of Community railways" in London. He set out the three areas. They are, first, social and regional passenger mass traffic in densely populated areas, secondly, inter-city passenger traffic between major centres up to distances of about 300 to 400 miles, and, thirdly, bulk goods traffic on long-distance international routes.

The first two areas have an obvious application to the United Kingdom, and the House deserves an assurance from the hon. Lady that she and her Department will consider that in any future discussions. It is possible that Community investment could be justified in Britain with regard to rail electrification and to infrastructure renewal in our larger conurbations. Both are desperately needed but are unlikely to be achieved under the present financial constraints imposed upon British Rail. As the hon. Lady made clear, in the light of the budget crisis now gripping the Community, it is admittedly difficult to peer too far into the future. I understand that it is unlikely that any agreement will be reached on a transport infrastructure programme going beyond the next two years. The reasons for that are apparent and understandable.

Nevertheless, if the Community has a future beyond the next two years, it is vital that Britain should derive some tangible benefit from membership. A practical contribution to railway development would be one. It would be helpful if the Government were to cease their sleight of hand with the United Kingdom's budgetary rebates. Where rebates are allocated to transport, they should go to transport instead of being swallowed in the Treasury's maw in a bookkeeping exercise.

Mr. Teddy Taylor


Mr. Snape

I should have thought it obvious that when rebates are made by the Community for transport projects, that is how they should be spent. At present they are not. They are used as part of general taxation. If the hon. Gentleman agrees with that, no doubt he will say so in his normal forthright manner. He will not be surprised to learn that I completely disagree. The Opposition take the view that when these rebates are made for specific transport matters, that is how they should be spent.

I wish to deal with the Community's general policy as it applies to road and rail transport. British Rail and the railway unions have made recent representations to the Secretary of State. Deep misgivings exist about the bias in Community transport policy towards road policy and, on the continent at least, inland waterways. It is felt, we believe justly, that the effect of Community policy has been to gear the conditions of competition in the transport market in favour of road transport in particular.

The Commission's recent document "Progress towards a Common Transport Policy", with its renunciation of the need to proceed on the basis of a global approach to transport, is seen as confirming a policy which preserves the advantages enjoyed by road transport over the railways.

The EC rail undertakings and the railway unions within the Community are therefore asking the Community authorities to take steps to bring competition into line and are making some specific requests. I hope that these requests will be acted upon by the Government, because my hon. Friends and I believe they are justifiable.

The first request is for the introduction of an infrastructure cost allocation system in which the real cost of each transport mode is properly quantified. It is impossible to quantify it throughout the Community. They are asking for the abolition of distortions in the conditions of competition resulting from inadequate regulations in road and inland waterway transport. Because of the lateness of the hour I will not attempt to detail the inadequate regulations or, indeed, the equally inadequate enforcement of some of the regulations in this country at least, particularly on the overloading of heavy goods vehicles coming from the Channel ports.

The EC rail undertakings and railway unions are also asking for greater strictness in monitoring the application of the regulations, combined with stiff penalties for noncompliance. Again, it is well known that the penalties, for example, for overloading heavy goods vehicles are laughably inadequate. They are seeking, too, the retention of the current road quota system, pending proper harmonisation of transport competition, a point that I hope the hon. Lady will pass on to her right hon. Friend before the meeting next week.

These are the wider objectives that the Secretary of State should be pursuing at his meeting on 20 December. If he does so, I assure him of the Opposition's support. In the meantime, he can surely take a small step towards allaying the anxieties of the railway organisations throughout the Community by getting the right result in the negotiations on the draft regulation and, unlike 1983, getting some return for a very large outlay for the United Kingdom.

11.52 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

We must thank the Select Committee on European Legislation for bringing this dangerous draft legislation before the House. As my hon. Friend will know, I was chairman of transport for Europe in the first European Parliament delegation. At that time, not only on lorry quotas but on the fulfilment of the ideals of Europe, the transport infrastructure to make possible the free passage of goods throughout Europe was uppermost in our minds.

Where the draft regulation is perhaps moving out of line is that it is going too far ahead in Community terms to 1987. We are asked to take note of this. We must say plainly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that when he attends the meeting on 20 December he must beware of Greeks not bearing gifts. If we look at the draft legislation we see that it is signed by a member of the Commission, obviously the commissioner for transport, a Mr. Contogeorgis, who I assume is a Greek, and that it will be sent to a Mr. Yannis Haralambopoulos, who is president of the Council.

One of the things I most fear is that the draft to the Council says: Whereas, as the European Council stressed at the meeting of 17 to 19 June 1983, a special financial effort is required in 1983 and 1984 to modernize the main transport routes in Greece". It may be that Greece, as the most recent member, is in need of greatest help on transport infrastructure. Nevertheless, two more worthy countries are likely to join the Community before 1987.

The draft regulation contains a graph of the amount of money that will be needed, even for the present limited programme. Page 2 of the financial record shows that we start off very slowly at 10 million ECU, but by 1987 that will rise rapidly to 200 million ECU, a total expenditure over the next five years of 530 million ECU, equivalent to about $600 million. That is not a small amount.

One of the great things about such regulations is that a little something should be given to the United Kingdom. I am not sure how we missed out in 1983, but the Minister will probably tell me that we put forward several schemes, none of which was accepted by the majority. However, in 1984, we have put forward two miserable schemes. The M25 is fairly near completion. I am not sure about the access railway to the port of Harwich, but, when compared with some of the 1984 projections put forward by other members, it is clear that we shall merely be given crumbs from the table.

One of the dangers, of which I am sure the Secretary of State is well aware, is that article 4 refers to The Council, acting by a qualified majority upon a proposal from the Commission'. Therefore, regardless of all our protests, we could be easily out voted on any of these projects. As a result, article 4 should be feared.

Article 8 states: The Commission"—— this has nothing to do with the Council— shall take decisions to grant financial support on the basis of the lists referred to in Article 4. Again, the majority on the Council will vote for the list, in whatever priority it wishes to assess it, and the Commission will grant the money. I can see no provision for restricting the Commission on what it can spend on any project.

We should also beware of article 11, which reiterates what I have said about articles 4 and 8. It goes on to outline the possible projects for 1984. What about the possible projects for 1985, 1986 and 1987? If the Community spends more on peripheral roads, railways and waterways, the whole emphasis of transport infrastructure will be destroyed.

Those of us who take an interest in Europe know that transport infrastructure has hardly moved since we joined in 1973. The Transport Commission is not high up in the list of priorities. The job of the commissioner for transport is generally a dead end job. People try to avoid it.

Mr. Snape

It is a dead end job here.

Mr. Hill

It is not like the view that we have here of transport. In the Community, transport never has enough budget and there is too much to do. Even on projects over the years such as lorry quotas and railway modernization——

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Will my hon. Friend explain how any organisation can have far too much to do with no significant budget? Is not that a contradiction?

Mr. Hill

I should have said that apparently there is too much to do. I left out that important word.

Mr. Moate

But what is being done?

Mr. Hill

Exactly. What is being done? Sometimes, even in my two and a half years in the European Parliament, I have wondered what they were all doing in the Commission.

There is a great deal of danger in the regulation. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is on top of the matter and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be forewarned. Majority voting on the matter is to be avoided.

12.1 am

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

Article 5(c) is about the improvement of traffic links between the outlying member countries and the rest of the Community by trunk routes. I shall illustrate that by talking about north-east Wales and giving an example of how the article might be brought into practice.

The roads to north-east Wales come from two areas—the north of England and abroad, from countries such as France and Germany. Roads from the latter areas go via London and come up through the midlands. If one wants to go to north-east Wales from the midlands, one goes via Whitchurch, which many heavy lorries do. They then go either to Wrexham or carry on to north-east Wales.

Recently a motorway was opened to the Telford bypass. Some traffic will now go by the Telford bypass up through Chirk and Rhosllanerchrugog to Wrexham, either stopping at Wrexham or going on to the other industrialised areas in north-east Wales.

The Department of Transport and the Welsh Office have made plans for that road. The Ruabon bypass will be dual carriageway. South of that, the Newbridge bypass will be a 7-metre road, and south of that the Chirk bypass will be a 10-metre road. Then we go into England. In England will be the Gobowen bypass and the Shrewsbury bypass. There will be a bit of dual carriageway between Shrewsbury and the motorway, but the rest of the road between Shrewsbury and the Welsh border will be exactly as it is now, although it will be upgraded in parts.

Many people find it unsatisfactory that there is a hotchpotch of road schemes, some wider and some a little narrower, and some dual carriageway. Traffic that has not used the road going through Whitchurch has to get round Wrexham. There is no propel' way to do so, with the result that heavy lorries go through residential areas. Lorries have been so high that on one occasion men on top of a lorry lifted up telephone lines so that the lorry could get through the recommended route round the town.

Two authorities are responsible. The Welsh Office is responsible for roads, and on the other side of the border is the Department of Transport. If only one authority were responsible, I am sure that there would be a better system and a better overall plan to provide the road infrastructure between this part of industrialised Wales — north-east Wales—the midlands and the centre of the Common Market.

We should also examine railway connections to the area. In the summer, someone proposed that the railway line between Wrexham and Chester should be made single rather than double track. That line carries much freight to many parts of the country.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must remember that we are discussing the funding of transport infrastructure by the EC.

Dr. Marek

I am dealing with that matter as this is a scheme for infrastructure which the EC could consider funding. If I am out of order I shall certainly accede to your judgment, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I wrote to the Welsh Office and asked why the Wrexham to Chester line was to be single track. The Secretary of State said that he did not know anything about it. I therefore wrote to the Department of Transport, which also knew nothing about it. I went back to the Welsh Office, which told me that British Rail must be responsible. I therefore tried British Rail and was told that the Welsh Office had asked it to propose the matter. The Minister is laughing but I have the letters with me and am prepared to show them to her. The deputy divisional general manager, Mr. Gibbins, wrote a letter to the press saying that the Welsh Office had asked British Rail to bring the matter forward. The Welsh Office wanted to save money by building road bridges over single track rather than double track.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am having difficulty in relating what the hon. Gentleman is saying to the document before the House.

Dr. Marek

The relationship is that there are schemes in the document and there are schemes which could be but are not in it. I shall conclude by saying that the Government should consider north-east Wales with a view to formulating a general view of the area's infrastructure to see whether a scheme which involves the area can be submitted to the EC in connection with the document. However, I must explain the background before doing that.

Welsh Office Ministers then found out what their civil servants were doing. I am not blaming the Ministers, as it is the civil servants who are at the back of many such schemes. The Ministers then said that it was true that they wanted to save a little money by building a road over only a single-track line. The point is that civil servants in England in the Department of Transport did not know what civil servants in Wales in the Welsh Office were doing. Moreover, Ministers in England did not know what Ministers in Wales were doing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not abuse the rules of the House. We must stick to the document.

Dr. Marek

I honestly think that what I am saying is pertinent to the document. It will take a great deal to convince people that, if liaison between civil servants in different Departments and between Ministers is bad in Britain, it will be good on a Community-wide basis. The European Community has a role to play in the sphere of transport infrastructure by providing the necessary mechanism or finance to get projects such as the tunnels under the Channel or the Alps or between Italy and Sicily under way. I doubt that the European Community can decide whether it is correct to provide money for a project in Harwich, Wexford, Nuremberg or Mulhouse as it does not have the intimate knowledge necessary to make value judgments between such projects. Of course, the Commission may say that it will try to divide the available finance, thereby keeping all the applicants happy. However, the Common Market Commission should not operate in that way. It should be trying to form a co-ordinated transport infrastructure policy, but I doubt whether it can.

North-west Wales is a prime example, as the border intervenes, to show that the transport infrastructure for roads and railways has not been examined on a sufficiently wide basis so that a coherent plan can be formed for the area. Will the Government examine whether more liaison can take place between the different Departments? If so, I urge the Government to consider including a project from the area as part of the regulations.

12.12 am
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Having listened to many ridiculous orders being discussed, I can say that the Minister's speech was one of the most encouraging that I have heard as regards the extension of European interference into our national affairs. She said, first, that we will not allow such a programme unless the United Kingdom receives a net benefit; secondly, that these matters should be dealt with not by the Commission but by a unanimous decision by the Council of Ministers; and thirdly, that we should not consider any scheme until we can assess the budget measures. I hope that that is a fair assessment of the Minister's speech.

It is high time that all hon. Members ceased pretending that a grand master plan exists for European transport. The Minister made it clear that we are discussing a nonsensical device that could be used to redistribute funds and to compensate for the nonsenses of the CAP which badly affect the United Kingdom.

Why on earth does such a programme exist? Surely it is nonsensical to establish a rigmarole of having European civil servants rushing round Europe making value judgments or assessments on whether there will be any benefit in having a road link from Athens to the Peloponnese, the Shankhill-Brai bypass or the renewal of the railway line to Plati? European Community civil servants would have grave difficulties in understanding the merits of such projects. It is obvious that such judgments can best be made by national Governments.

Clearly there will be no such programme unless an increase is made in the Community's resources. Much as I would like a major reform of the CAP to take place, the Government clearly have not asked for that. At best, we are looking for a holding of the position on resources. These silly transport and energy programmes can be implemented only if there is an increase in resources and if we try to match some of the spending on the CAP. But are we not in danger of throwing out the baby with the bath water and of setting up a whole lot of Euro-wide schemes to provide regional, social, transport and energy help at a time when Britain is being sensible enough to cut out all those Socialist planning nonsenses and to seek less interference and less public spending?

I would find it difficult to explain to my constituents that the Government had to cut spending on health and housing benefits because of a cash shortage and at the same time explain why more money had to be spent on the extravaganza of Europe and on financing railway lines between Lorissa and Plati, and so on. Whatever happens in the negotiations, I hope that we shall give our hard-pressed Minister, who has spoken so ably tonight, a little more time to consider Britain's transport problems instead of going through the nonsense of sitting round a table trying to make value judgments about the respective merits of, for example, the Nuremberg marshalling yards. The Minister has enough to do without going through a charade that is simply a device to try to get back some cash for the nonsenses of the CAP.

My next point is very important. Many of us are aware that county and district councils are overworked. However, I am worried by the number of them who are spending a lot of cash on jaunts to Europe to try to obtain what they call "European money" for transport projects. It is clear from the paper that the schemes have to come from our Government. We then send them to the Commission, which decides which ones to put forward. The Council of Ministers or the Commission will decide which schemes are all right.

However, some silly people have regrettably been encouraged by some of the so-called European Assembly men, or Members of the European Parliament, to spend a lot of ratepayers' money on jaunts to Brussels to see important people. They then start talking about their need for roads, bridges, sewers, and goodness knows what. It is all nonsense. It is right that Whitehall should put forward any projects, and I am sure that if the Minister has her way value judgments will be made solely on the basis of how the cash is allocated between the Governments. We should discourage local authorities from going through such nonsense. I appreciate that some of them are doing it for publicity. Sometimes people do that, because they want to give the impression that they are fighting for their areas. Local authorities, Members of Parliament and even Governments do that.

However, if we disregard some of the nonsensical populists, such as the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), and consider the merits, it is clear that some district and county councillors and others genuinely think that a trip to Brussels or Strasbourg will advance the transport needs of their area. It would be much better if such people contacted our Department, where the decisions are made about what is put forward for consideration by the Commission or the Council of Ministers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reconsider the desirability of having a quiet word with or sending out a circular to all councils telling them not to waste their money on jaunts to Strasbourg or Brussels, because they will not help. However, it will help if people keep in touch with the Government.

The speech of my hon. Friend the Minister was splendid, and the Government's approach is commendable. I shall be happy if we do away with the nonsense of so-called European policies, which are simply nasty devices to try to redress the CAP's injustices. It would be much better if we could—as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly said — begin to face up to problems instead of creating silly devices of no practical value whatever.

12.19 am
Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

If my hon. Friend the Minister of State was not completely and sufficiently heartened by the support she received from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), I will fill her cup to overflowing by also offering her complete support for the attitude that she and the Government have adopted in response to this regulation.

The motion before us suggests that we should welcome the views set out in the Secretary of State for Transport's Explanatory Memorandum". If one actually reads the memorandum, one finds that the Government have expressed the position superbly. Wherever the document asks for nothing, we give nothing. I support that completely. Where it suggests that something should be slightly strengthened, the Government accept it, and I think that I can go along with that proposal. They are opposed to any provisions covering 1985–87, and I completely accept that. The explanatory memorandum says: The Government would be ready to support any short-term scheme which provided clear net benefit for the United Kingdom; but, taken together the present proposals fall a long way short of this. So the Government are opposed to that too.

In a splendid statement, the memorandum continues: The Government's attitude to these proposals will also be broadly affected by the course of negotiations". That is a fairly acceptable statement. Broadly, the Government are asking for nothing from the House and I will gladly support them in that attitude.

Mr. Snape

The hon. Gentleman's speech and, for that matter, the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) show all the long-term strategy of—I do not know what the right term is. If they take their heads out of the sand, they will see that, whether they like it or not, this is the reality. The hon. Gentleman is saying that the Government are asking for nothing. Like the rest of the Community, the Government are contributing to the schemes included in the motion. What the Minister is saying is that Britain should have something to say about this expenditure from the outset rather than when the money has been committed.

Mr. Moate

The Government are being very realistic in their approach. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a few moments, I will elaborate.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, in her statement, was being realistic. She was exposing from the Front Bench, in a slightly more polite and charming way than perhaps is the case when people speak from the Back Benches, the farce of this document and the so-called transport policy. It is a farce, and in any other circumstances it would be a monstrous joke, but in these circumstances it is more of a tragic joke.

All the grand words that wrap up this great document and all the ambitions it contains— a multi-annual programme for transport infrastructure — mean, in terms of improvements to our transport infrastructure, nothing at all. Seldom has the European ideal been expressed more optimistically and more ambitiously in our constituencies than by Members of the European Assembly saying that they will get support for this project or for that project and that there will be boards up supporting this great Euro-infrastructure scheme. Nothing has happened, nothing will happen, and nothing should happen. This document gives it all away. For all the great list of schemes and for all the grand words, how much are we talking about for 1983? The document says £7.5 million for the whole of this great continent. It is a joke and we all know that it is a joke. The Department knows that it is a joke but it is the Department's job to go along and try to demonstrate some way of getting back some of the money as part of the refund to which this country is entitled because of the excessive amounts we are paying to the Community. It is not about infrastructure but about reclaiming some of the money due to us. It is an elaborate farce.

Even if the funds increase a little—even that is in some doubt because it depends very much upon the budgetary proposals — it still will not be of any significance in terms of rail, road, sea and air infrastructure throughout the continent of Europe. I will go further—it should not.

The schemes are submitted by the respective Governments. The Government of this country decide that a particular project is worthy of support. That is the way it should be. It is nonsense to suggest that we should be competing with other countries for funds for access to the port of Harwich. What nonsense that is. Are we really to submit to decisions by President Mitterrand, Mr. Karamanlis or anybody else about the merits or otherwise of improving the road and rail links with the ports of Harwich or Sheerness? We know that that is a farce, and yet we go round in circles producing documents with the panoply of Euro-language pretending that it is significant. Surely it is more intelligent to say that such decisions should not be part of the Euro-strategy but that they should be for the national Governments.

Let us go further and examine what is happening. If we did concede, the money would not be available. It is worth looking back at the 1983 budget. The second largest item in the Euro-budget was not transport, as we can tell from the figures. It was not the social or regional fund. The biggest item was agriculture and the second biggest item was the administration cost of the whole Community, including all the institutions.

How much has been spent on spending the £7.5 million? My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), in a helpful intervention based upon his experience in the European Assembly — which he misnamed the European Parliament—told us about the vast amount of work that its Members had to perform and of their spending on real improvements to our transport system of £7.5 million. What has that cost in terms of Commission manpower; in terms of our Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister of State? How often has the Minister had to go to Brussels to fight for our share of this tiny, pathetic road programme? How much of our civil servants' time has been expended? That is never costed. A vast amount of time—from that of the Prime Minister to all the civil servants— is taken up on this type of Euro-farce.

The document has nothing to do with the ideals of hon. Members in their attempt to produce a better Europe. We would do far better if we got rid of this nonsense and ended the type of debate that we are having tonight. We all know that it is farcical. My hon. Friend the Minister of State has made an honourable, clear and lucid defence of what she is doing. She is not asking for much, but she is approaching the matter with scepticism—indeed, with an element of cynicism which is appropriate—with no great expectation of any major contribution to improving the United Kingdom's transport arrangements. On the basis of what she has asked for, I am delighted to give my support.

12.28 am
Mrs. Chalker

With the leave of the House, I should like to make some brief remarks in response to the debate. I am not sure how I should judge the complimentary remarks by my hon. Friends. I welcome their support, but I shall always try to be a realist. I still believe that it is right for us to work with our European partners. If understanding each other's transport problems is one way of maintaining the relationship in good order, I shall do my best to ensure that that relationship is maintained.

It is I who will be going to Brussels next week, not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I shall do my best to ensure that the agenda is decided with Britain's view more than adequately represented.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) seems to have spoken a long time ago. I realise that having no United Kingdom projects in the 1983 list seems to mean to him that we have not been doing our homework, but that is not so. As long ago as January or February of this year, a very full list was sent to the Commission. I was not able to go to the transport meeting because it was on 9 June, when I was busy doing something else. My noble Friend Lord Lucas attended it in my absence.

Following that meeting, I took up the whole question of transport infrastructure projects with Commissioner Contogeorgis, who is a Greek, and I shall refer to our Greek partners later. I took that action because I believed that Britain's view should be clearly put by the Minister who has had perhaps the most responsibility in the European discussions on this subject during the past two years. I was heard with much understanding, and some of the projects—I should not like to say that this was due to that discussion, because I know that it was not—that are listed for 1984, and some of the projects that will be undertaken if we proceed with the regulation, will be, I hope, the fruit of some of the work done by the Committee of Permanent Representatives, by my officials and by myself during summer of this year.

I should point out to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East that the projects listed for 1984 include not only two sections of the M25 but the road and rail access to Harwich and the rail electrification project for Colchester to Harwich. There are a number of projects which represent important exports for British firms and which, therefore, have a high economic benefit. I made the point that the only projects that would succeed were those that would bring high economic benefit.

Mr. Moate

I am trying to put this matter into context. My hon. Friend mentioned part of the M25 project being put on the list. How much money will come back to this country as a contribution to road works in relation to the whole project?

Mrs. Chalker

I cannot give my hon. Friend that answer off the top of my head. When I have looked up my detailed papers, I shall write to him. He is right in saying that it is not a substantial amount but, as I believe he will know, we have given this project the highest priority in all our transport spending. I do not want to stray from the regulation, because I should not like to incur Mr. Deputy Speaker's displeasure.

We take fairness between modes of transport extremely seriously. Many of the discussions that I have had round the table in Brussels and elsewhere have been about the balance between modes of transport.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East referred also to the liberalisation of road haulage, and over the years we have regulated road haulage more elaborately than rail haulage. We have also made sure — partly because of an initiative in the summer — that the Community regulations on drivers' hours and tachographs are properly enforced. I put on record the fact that in the stringency of enforcement of regulations the United Kingdom yields to no one. We are already enforcing at a much higher level than many of our partners, and one of my efforts has been to get our European partners to put the same efforts into enforcement as we have.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East asked that we should look ahead as far as possible and make it clear that we are ready and willing to put forward rail proposals. When these measures have a strong community interest we shall do that, and I have already mentioned the Colchesterto-Harwich line project.

I do not believe that the position is anywhere as dangerous as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) started by saying. He said that he feared the Greeks bearing gifts. I agree that enlargement means that we must be careful about the development of infrastructure, and I have always taken a cautious view. The Government are prepared to move only one step at a time and in a direction that seems to us not only to be beneficial to this country but to represent the ideals for which we joined Europe.

As I have said, we are well represented in the 1984 list. My hon. Friend said that the schemes were miserable, but they compare well with the Greek share if they are supported at a reasonable rate. On the other aspect that worried him, I should point out that the draft regulation includes a ceiling on aid which will stop any one or two projects taking too much of the cake. We shall keep a close watch on what happens there. I agree that the selection from the 1984 list is crucial. That is why we believe that decisions should be unanimous and not on a qualified majority basis, so as to protect the United Kingdom interest. That I hope to achieve.

Perhaps I might now reply to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). I know the stretch of railway line between Wrexham and Chester and the proposal for a Gresford-Pulford bypass. Had the hon. Gentleman written to me he would certainly have received the information that he sought. My office and the Welsh Office are in constant communication about anything concerning the border between Wales and England. Although I have no responsibility for the A55 in north Wales, the hon.

Gentleman will know that that is a prime project in the Welsh Office road building programme. I should point out, however, that none of the roads in that area comes into the same class of economic benefit as roads and other projects competing for Community infrastructure funds. They are generally far smaller projects and do not bring the level of economic benefit attaching to the projects qualifying so far.

I was somewhat taken aback at the prospect of a Scotsman bearing gifts when I heard the initial comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). He asked me earlier about the advice available to the Council of Ministers. I hope that I did not mislead him when I said that we depended on and received specialist advice. There are two formal advisory committees on which member states sit—the Transport Infrastructure Committee and the Advisory Committee on Transport—but those committees act only under instruction from the member states through the Council machinery. They provide the dossiers to which I referred, which are available to all member states so that adequate comparisons may be made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East also spoke at some length about those who decide to visit Europe to make the claims of their area known. I think we agree that some of them go with too high hopes. Nevertheless, a great deal of education is still necessary about the differences and similarities across Europe and the problems that each country faces. Unlike my hon. Friend, I certainly should not douse the idea of greater exchange and understanding of projects, from which mutual benefits may be gained.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) depicted the entire scenario as very small and insignificant. One is tempted to wonder why he wished to enjoy our company at this hour if the whole matter was as downbeat as he suggested. Certainly our hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) would take a very different view. I suggest to him that he talks to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham about Sheerness, because that port has great hopes for the future. I tease my hon. Friend when I so tempt him, because I believe that we cannot do better than to make our approach clear to the House. This I tried to do earlier.

I listened to the debate with close interest. I am glad that I appear to have the support of all hon. Members who have participated in it. Most of the views seem broadly to have converged, but I shall not neglect to make clear in Brussels what the House feels about the Government's approach.

Although it is very late, I am glad that hon. Members have been given the opportunity to tell me their views before I attend next week's Council of Transport Ministers. I thank hon. Members for their support in the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the European Community Document No. 8922/83 setting out proposals for financial support for a multi-annual programme for transport infrastructure; and welcomes the views set out in the Secretary of State for Transport's Explanatory Memorandum of 14th October.