HC Deb 23 November 1992 vol 214 cc591-2
1. Mr. Salmond

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress is being made during the United Kingdom's presidency of the EC Council on improving transport infrastructure in order to maximise the benefits to be gained from the single European market; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor)

At its meeting on 26 October, the European Community Transport Council under the United Kingdom presidency reached provisional agreement, subject to the agreement of the European Parliament, to extend the regulation on EC transport infrastructure for a further two years. Investment in road and rail infrastructure is now at record levels in Britain and will assist British business in making the most of the single European market.

Mr. Salmond

Given that the geographical limit of the Government's rail policy seems to be docklands and of their road policy the M25, what provision has been made to extend transport links for the single market for the world beyond Watford Gap? If it is appropriate to spend £1,700 million to extend the Jubilee line to nowhere in particular and £300 million to build 1 mile of motorway in Limehouse, why is it not appropriate to spend £80 million on electrifying the railway line from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, the oil capital of Europe and from where most of the funds that the Government have squandered over the past 10 years have come?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman is being astonishingly and misleadingly selective, and he knows it. He knows that he is talking arrant nonsense. He is well aware that there is a substantial road-building programme from the channel ports all the way to Aberdeen, which will greatly assist Scottish businesses. I was in Aberdeen recently for a meeting and the chairman complained that there were still 20 miles of single carriageway road between Aberdeen and Paris. That shows the degree to which there are already motorways and dual-carriageway roads. The hon. Gentleman is aware of what is being done on what soon will be the M74, he knows of the Moss End terminal and he should know that the M25 is probably the greatest bottleneck to the Community for Scottish businesses. He is talking total nonsense.

Mr. Adley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to infrastructure on both sides of the channel, actions speak louder than words? If the Government, for entirely respectable reasons, decide that they must protect and restore the national heritage after the fire at Windsor, could they not use the same approach to improve our rail infrastructure? Will he study the Development (Loan Guarantees and Grants) Act 1929 to ascertain whether that might be appropriate in the current circumstances?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend must know that we are expecting British Rail to have record levels of capital investment this year and for the next three years. They will be well above the levels of the 1970s and 1980s. In real terms, they will be at twice the level of those for most years. There is a substantial investment programme in British Rail, including one for the channel tunnel, but funds cannot be unlimited. We must have a mind to other spending claims as well as a mind to the overall level of Government spending. The fact that capital investment is at record levels shows the priority that we are giving to British Rail.

Mr. Martlew

Is the Secretary of State aware that unless £800 million is spent on the west coast rail line to upgrade it to the standard of the east coast line, my constituents —indeed, all those living in western Britain—will not be able to benefit from the single market?

Mr. MacGregor

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges the substantial sums that are already being spent on the east coast line. Some improvement to the infrastructure of the west coast line is taking place now. Falling revenues have caused British Rail to reconsider its overall plans for the moment.

Mr. Horam

Is there any possibility of European funds being used for the channel tunnel rail link?

Mr. MacGregor

Some European funds are already being used for studies on the rail link. It is for British Rail to put forward proposals for next year. Fundamentally, we need to study the overall financing of the high-speed channel tunnel rail link after I have received Union Railways' recommendations for a precise line. We are publishing the options and can then consider the financing.