HL Deb 01 March 1994 vol 552 cc934-6

2.47 p.m.

Lord Haskel asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their estimate of the contribution to be made by the United Kingdom through private and public funding of the European Union's transport infrastructure programme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, the United Kingdom contributes on average about 15 per cent. to the European Community budget but makes no specific contribution to the transport infrastructure programme. The private sector does not contribute to this programme but can contribute in parallel to projects supported by the programme.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting response. On his return from the Brussels summit, the Prime Minister said that the European Council had reaffirmed the conclusion it reached in Edinburgh about the speedy completion of the trans-European network. Why has there been a delay in that regard? Does the Minister not agree that delay is to the detriment of British industry and, in particular, those manufacturing companies in Scotland, Wales and the North of England which are at the periphery of the European Community?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the noble Lord has quickly changed the question from one about "TIPS" to one about "TENS", if I may use some Euro-jargon. The trans-European network programme will come into place in 1995. Work is currently taking place on what exactly that programme will encompass. The Commission hopes to agree draft guidelines on all the networks which will be put to the Council of Ministers in the summer.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, in view of the fact that the Minister has stated that Britain is part of Europe, does he consider that the United Kingdom transport infrastructure is part of the European infrastructure?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am puzzled by that question. As Britain is part of Europe, both geographically and politically, one must assume that our transport network is also part of Europe.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, presumably the purport of that question is: do the Government include in their contribution towards the costs of the European transport infrastructure programme that which they expend in this country? If so, that would make absolute nonsense of a European infrastructure policy. Can the Minister say specifically what contributions the Government have made towards the development of a strategy for the transport infrastructure programme of the European Union?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am not entirely sure that the aid the noble Lord gives to enable me to interpret the question of the noble Baroness is entirely helpful. We do not include our own expenditure as part and parcel of European expenditure, although it would be one way of making the total sum look very large indeed. As regards the noble Lord's second question, we do play a part in decisions about the transport infrastructure programme. The programme is drawn up after advice has been given and discussion has taken place in the Transport Infrastructure Committee on which we and the other member states are represented. The TIPS programme is not a very big one. It is largely used to fund feasibility studies and so on, although on two specific instances in the United Kingdom— namely, Channel Tunnel links and links to Ireland— it can be used to fund construction projects.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is it not a fact that when the summit was reported on by the Prime Minister, he spoke of a total package of some 20 billion ecus in relation to the transport infrastructure programme which was being developed? Is it not also a fact that he was very imprecise about Britain's contribution in that respect? Therefore, will the Minister turn his attention to telling the House what he anticipates Britain's contribution in that regard is likely to be?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am a little puzzled as to whether I am discussing the transport infrastructure programme, which was the subject of the Question, or whether we have moved on— one can get very confused about such matters— to the European network, which will come about in 1995. I suspect that the noble Lord is asking about the latter. It was agreed at the Edinburgh European Council that there would be some 5 billion ecus annually for the network budget from the structural funds or from the European regional development fund and the cohesion fund. In addition, it was decided that there will be 7 million ecus annually coming from the European Investment Bank in the form of loans and guarantees.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, what proportion of the contribution could be withheld if the House of Commons so desired?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I believe that I said in a previous answer that we do not specifically contribute programme by programme. It is in fact part of the total contribution to the European budget.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, can the Minister translate the ecus to which he referred into pounds sterling?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Of course, my Lords. I am always keen to help the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, to become more communautaire. The 5 billion ecus to which I referred work out at about £ 3.8 billion and 7 billion ecus amount to about £ 5.32 billion.