PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

First Standing Committee

on European Community Documents

DRAFT PROPOSAL BY THE COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES FOR A COUNCIL REGULATION ON THE GRANTING OF FINANCIAL SUPPORT TO TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS SET OUT IN THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT'S UNNUMBERED EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM OF 1 DECEMBER 1986

Thursday 18 December 1986

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Albert McQuarrie

Bottomley, Mr. Peter (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)

Jones, Mr. Robert B. (Hertfordshire, West)

Maude, Mr. Francis (Warwickshire, North)

Osborn, Sir John (Sheffield, Hallam)

Page, Mr. Richard (Hertfordshire, South-West)

Parkinson, Mr. Cecil (Hertsmere)

Pawsey, Mr. J. F. (Rugby and Kenilworth)

Peacock, Mrs. Elizabeth (Batley and Spen)

Roberts, Mr. Ernie (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Ross, Mr. Stephen (Isle of Wight)

Ryman, Mr. John (Blyth Valley)

Stott, Mr. Roger (Wigan)

Sumberg, Mr. David (Bury, South)

Taylor, Mr. John Mark (Solihull)

Thomas, Dr. Roger (Carmarthen)

Thompson. Mr. Jack (Wansbeck)

Vaughan, Sir Gerard (Reading, East)

Wareing, Mr. Robert N. (Liverpool, West Derby)

Miss P. A. Helme, Committee Clerk.

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3 First Standing Committee on European Community Documents Thursday 18 December 1986

[MR. ALBERT MCQUARRIE in the Chair]

Draft Proposal by the Commission of the European Communities for a Council Regulation on the granting of financial support to transport infrastructure projects set out in the Department of Transport's unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum of 1 December 1986

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley): I beg to move, That the Committee takes note of the draft proposals by the Commission of the European Communities for a Council Regulation on the granting of financial support to transport infrastructure projects as set out in the Department of Transport's unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum of 1 December 1986; and welcomes the Government's intention to work for a structured approach to the European Community's future role in transport infrastructure, based on the co-ordination of infrastructure projects in the Member States. It is almost three years since the last debate on a Commission proposal for a transport infrastructure regulation. It is appropriate that we should now consider the subject again, in the light of subsequent developments and the latest proposal from the Commission. The draft regulation was the subject of an unnumbered explanatory memorandum on 1 December. Since then, as indicated in the Department of Transport's addendum of 12 December, a formal numbered text has been tabled by the Commission, document No. 10608/86. The proposed regulation deals with the allocation of the 90 million ECU, about £65 million, that the 1985 Community budget provided for transport infrastructure in member states. The draft regulation is similar to previous ad hoc regulations that allocated funds from the 1982, 1983 and 1984 Community budgets to infrastructure projects. Article 1 lists the 20 projects that will benefit, including two in the United Kingdom—the Maidstone to Ashford section of the M20 and the A120 Braintree bypass. Articles 2 and 3 deal with arrangements for allocating the funds, controlling payment and checking the progress of projects. The ceilings for Community assistance as a percentage of the total value of the project are specified in these articles, which also allow the Commission to determine the amount allocated for each project. The schedule annexed to the explanatory memorandum submitted by my Department gives details of the allocation proposed by the Commission. Between them, the two United Kingdom projects will receive 12.5 million ECU, about £9 million. 4 The proposal should be seen against the background of a long and complex history of attempts to establish a coherent Community policy on transport infrastructure. There have been several Commission papers and proposals on a possible medium-term transport infrastructure programme. The latest was tabled last July as document No. 8294/86 and was considered by the Scrutiny Committee on the basis of an explanatory memorandum of 21 August. The proposal included a draft regulation for a multi-annual programme of Community support for transport infrastructure, allowing the Commission to allocate funds on the basis of agreed objectives for the programme and agreed criteria for assessing individual projects. The Commission hoped that agreement would be reached on its medium-term proposal by the end of 1986, but progress in the Council has been slow. Although member states agree on objectives and criteria, there are still major divergencies on the financial aspects of the proposed medium-term programme. The Community, therefore, faces an immediate problem of what to do about the 90 million ECU allocated for transport infrastructure in the 1985 Community budget. Without a regulation, funds cannot be committed to individual projects and, if not committed by the end of this year, the funds will no longer be available for expenditure on transport infrastructure. Accordingly, the Commission tabled its proposal for an ad hoc regulation to allocate the 1985 funds, but the proposal did not reach the Council until the end of last month. It was considered urgently by the Transport Council earlier this week and there was a clear majority in favour of the Commission's proposals. Although some member states, including the United Kingdom, had doubts about the appropriateness of that expenditure in view of the Community's present budgetary situation, the draft regulation was accepted by the Council with some amendments and subject to a UK parliamentary reserve. I turn now to the UK's attitude to the Community's role in the development of transport infrastructure. As stated in our explanatory memorandum, the UK has consistently argued against a separate Community fund for transport infrastructure, which is proposed by the Commission in its draft medium-term programme. However, we see a useful role for the Community in co-ordinating the development of infrastructure in member states. It makes sense that the development of different sections of major routes across the Community should be carried out in a co-ordinated way. We also see a need for proper co-ordination of funding for transport infrastructure projects from existing Community sources, such as the European regional development fund and the European Investment Bank. However, no convincing evidence has been provided to show that infrastructure developments of par-ticular Community interest are being frustrated by lack of funds. In those circumstances, funding should remain primarily a matter for member states. Against that background, the Government had doubts about the appropriateness of a further ad hoc regulation such as that put forward by the Commission, and we also had doubts about some detailed aspects of the proposal. It seemed inappropriate that the decision about how funds should be distributed 5 between projects should be left entirely to the Commission, so we pressed strongly in the Council for the Commission draft to be amended so that the schedule of payments to individual projects should be subject to approval by the Council and recorded in the Council minutes. I am happy to say that that has now been agreed. The Council also passed an amendment to the legal base for the regulation. It was agreed that, as the regulation dealt only with road and rail transport projects, the legal base needed to refer only to article 75 and not to articles 75 and 84. Also, the ceilings in article 2 for contributions to individual projects from the regulation and from all other Community sources were reduced from 50 per cent, and 70 per cent, to 25 per cent, and 50 per cent, respectively. Those amend-ments allay many of our fears about the proposed regulation, and the fact that it contains two important United Kingdom projects that have a clear Community interest leads us to agree the regulations, subject to the outcome of this debate. The completion of the M20 is a major priority in the Department's road building programme and will provide for major road access to the Channel tunnel. The A120 is an important access road to the east coast ports. The regulation establishes no precedents because it is essentially similar to previous ad hoc regulations. Therefore, it does not prejudice the position that we took in the continuing discussions on the medium-term programme. The distractions of the 1985 budget provision are out of the way, so discussions on the medium term programme are likely to resume under the Belgian presidency. Britain will continue to argue that the medium-term programme requires no new financial instrument that might have major budgetary implications for the future. Community efforts should be directed instead towards co-ordinating the development of projects in member states. We have considerable support from other member states that share our reservations about establishing a new financial instrument. We hope to be able to build on the agreement that has been reached already on the objectives and criteria for the programme and to work to establish a mechanism for ensuring effective co-ordination. That would include, if necessary, the co-ordination of finance from existing Community sources. Much work remains to be done. The Commission has promised the Council a further paper that will deal with the financial aspects of the Community's co-ordinating role. We look forward to that with interest and hope that agreement will be reached before the end of next year on a sensible and useful role for the Community which does not add to the pressures on the Community budget and avoids the need for such further ad hoc regulations.

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10.39 am

Sir John Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam): I shall inter-vene for two minutes. When I was an MEP 10 years ago, I was interested in infrastructure grants for trans-port, and I note that the British Government are still continuing a line that was embarked on then. On Tuesday morning of this week, I took part in a Council of Europe hearing on high-speed rail links, such as the SNCF's TGV, the German ICE and the Transrapide Maglev. I encouraged British Rail and Eurotunnel, that represents those who want to develop that project, to attend that hearing. The Chairman of the session was a Greek, Mr Anastassopoulos, who was Chairman of the European Parliament Transport Committee. After discussions with him on greater co-operation, I must support the Government's resolution and their arguments for co-ordinating future development projects. I had the misfortune to fly back from Paris via Manchester a week ago, to reach Sheffield in time to meet Her Majesty the Queen. I hope that the creation of better links with Manchester will be a priority, because it is the only northern airport that serves my home city of Sheffield. I reached my destination much later than I wished because of heavy vehicles and fog. I am anxious that others should have better links from south Yorkshire to Heathrow airport so that they do not have to travel on the Ml in its present state. Co-ordination of all projects in Europe is vital; it should not be done on an ad hoc basis.

10.41 am

Mr Peter Bottomley: We all recognise the long and distinguished service given to Europe by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir J. Osborn), although much was given in a wider context than the European Community. He is right to talk about the need for co-ordination and co-operation. I have noted his argument and may be able, with the use of taxpayers' money, to make better progress on road links than on the abolition of fog. People are keen that money is spent effectively, especially to help those in the north. Everyone welcomes the increase in road spending that has come from national resources and I hope that that will continue.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee takes note of the draft proposals by the Commission of the European Communities for a Council Regulation on the granting of financial support to transport infrastructure projects as set out in the Department of Transport's unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum of 1 December 1986; and welcomes the Government's intention to work for a structured approach to the European Community's future role in trasport infrastructure, based on the co-ordination of infrastructure projects in the Member States.

Committee rose at eighteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

McQuarrie, Mr. Albert (Chairman)

Bottomley, Mr. Peter

Jones, Mr. Robert B.

Maude, Mr.

Osborn, Sir John

Page, Mr. Richard

Pawsey, Mr.

Sumberg, Mr

Taylor, Mr. John Mark

Thompson, Mr. Jack

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

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