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European Community (Council Of Transport Ministers)

Volume 983: debated on Wednesday 23 April 1980

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asked the Minister of Transport when he last met his European Economic Community colleagues; what subjects were discussed; and if he will make a statement.

At the December Transport Council, which I attended, agreement was reached on all six inland transport matters under consideration. Full details of the matters discussed are contained in my reply of 10 December 1979 to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). The most significant item from the United Kingdom point of view was an agreement to increase by 20 per cent. the Community quota on road haulage permits which marked a further step towards the liberalisation that I have always sought.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Has he put forward any projects that will take advantage of increased EEC expenditure on infrastructure projects? Will he bear in mind that any infrastructure projects that are financed by the EEC should be carried out in the assisted areas?

As I made clear earlier, the proposals on infrastructure policy are still under discussion. We hope that they will be discussed at the next council meeting in June. I shall certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman's point.

Will the Minister give an assurance that he will seek a commitment from his European colleagues that there will be a specific infrastructure fund? At the moment any fund that might come from Europe will come out of the social and regional fund. Is he aware that this disturbs me and a number of my colleagues who have recently been in Europe?

We certainly favour constructive discussion on all those points. We welcome the Commission's Green Paper. We shall consult interested parties and do what we can to get a scheme that is in this country's interests.

Has there been any discussion about the implications of oil price increases for the Nine and for public transport in the Nine, particularly their effect on rail electrification?

That specific question has not yet been raised, but I expect that it will be one of the subjects under discussion either at the Council meeting or during meetings with European Ministers of Transport during the next 12 months.

Has my right hon. Friend had any chance to talk with his colleagues about comparable productivity of the various European railway networks? Would it not be helpful if we could understand why some of our friends in the Common Market have a much higher degree of productivity in the railways than we do?

My hon. Friend has made an important point about productivity. There are always dangers in European comparisons and that is why I warn the House against making too many superficial statements, on the European example, to the effect that more support should be given to British Railways.