Skip to main content

British Buses: Ec Directive

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 15 May 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Whether they will invoke Article 3(b) of the Treaty of Rome ("subsidiarity") to protect the traditional London double-decker bus and the British midi- and minibuses from forthcoming European Community legislation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Government are committed to the completion of the single market for the benefit of our industry. We believe that the directive is necessary. However, we do not believe that the intent of the directive should go beyond what is needed to achieve its objectives. We will continue to seek to protect the interests of our bus industry. The directive will not be retrospective and will not affect existing vehicles.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, which I noticed did not refer to the issue of subsidiarity. I must therefore assume that it is incapable of protecting these important British interests on this occasion. Does my noble friend not agree that, as usual, the problem is the system of qualified majority voting in the Community, which now governs agriculture, transport, culture, the environment and the single market, whereby 62 votes are needed to carry a motion and 26 to block one? Is he aware that on this occasion only Sweden and Ireland will be supporting us, which will allow us to muster all of 17 votes to protect these important British interests? How do the Government go on pretending that in these areas they can defend our interests in Brussels?

My Lords, I believe that my original Answer addressed the issue of subsidiarity. We believe that the directive is necessary and that harmonisation will be good for the industry. However, we do not believe that the directive should go too far or be too prescriptive and deal with issues such as comfort, on which we believe it unnecessary to produce total harmonisation.

As regards the noble Lord's question about qualified majority voting, we are talking about a draft of a draft directive. We are a long way away from the end of this procedure. We have already been successful in amending the proposals and I am confident that we shall continue to engender support for our views on the matter.

My Lords, will the Minister give the House a further assurance in regard to the subject matter of the noble Lord's Question that the Government will resist any question of this country being compelled to get rid of its double-decker buses? Yes or no?

My Lords, when the noble Lord reads my original Answer he will see that the directive will not be retrospective and will not lead to the removal of the traditional open-platform, double-decker buses which we see on the streets of London.

With regard to future buses, we must make sure that the directive which eventually comes forward is not over-prescriptive and does not go into the kind of detail which we believe to be unnecessary. We will continue to work to ensure that that happens.

My Lords, I am well aware that this Question excites great passions. With your Lordships' permission, as the noble Lord was on his feet, perhaps we may have two questions from this side afterwards. We have time.

My Lords, I wished to ask a Question which is unlikely to excite much passion but perhaps some applause. Is the Minister aware that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, today became the father of a baby girl? Yes or no?

My Lords, is the Minister further aware that if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, finds that there is no sore he has an incredible temptation to create one if only to pick at it? Is it not the situation that this draft directive on the design of buses is intended to facilitate the single market and can, therefore, help to promote the export of our buses to the Continent? Is it not also the case that the United Kingdom asked for account to be taken of the special design of double-decker buses and that that has been written into the draft? It is only a draft at this stage and, of course, can be subject to further amendment to the advantage of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I do not believe that I would be breaching the conventions of the usual channels if I were to welcome the arrival of the new daughter of my noble friend the Chief Whip. I dare say that she will be attending your Lordships' House in due course to view its proceedings.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, was right in saying that a considerable amount of work has been done on the directive. It has been altered to take account of the special double-decker buses which operate in the UK. British industry still has reservations about that and we intend to work hard in order to ensure that those are fully taken into account. The noble Lord was right to highlight the benefits of harmonisation, particularly to the industry, in being able to export more easily.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Government will not agree to a European directive affecting the design of buses to be manufactured in this country for use in this country? Is not such an extension of the powers of the European Union utterly obnoxious and contrary to the whole principle of subsidiarity?

My Lords, of course I understand my noble friend's concerns but I have attempted to highlight the fact that considerable benefits arise from harmonisation. We believe in a single market. We believe that there are clear advantages to be gained for our manufacturers, as well as those from overseas, from being able to sell into a market in which the standards are approximately the same.

I agree with my noble friend that the directive should not be over-prescriptive and go into too much detail on matters such as comfort, width of seats and so on on which some local variance is clearly acceptable.

My Lords, as a staunch member of the Conservative Party, does the noble Viscount not find it slightly strange that the Government should be in favour of allowing a group of bureaucrats who have never built a bus, who have never sold anything and who have never hired or fired anybody to impose a policy on the entire European bus industry which many bus manufacturers do not want and do not believe in?

My Lords, before this proposal becomes a directive, it will go before the Council of Ministers. Therefore, it will be for member states to decide what they feel is the appropriate level of harmonisation for the Community.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and Lady Strathclyde, on the birth of their new baby. Perhaps the noble Viscount could point out to the noble Lord that the best way in which to see London and, indeed, any other city is from the top of a double-decker bus.

Is this not another instance of the European Community interfering in the nooks and crannies of British life? Will he say also what was the outcome of the meeting with Herr Bangemann on 13th May? Is it true that he said that the directive was 95 per cent. agreed and that there could be no further alteration?

My Lords, I do not yet have an official record of what happened at that meeting. But the important factor is that we are a long way from final decisions on this matter. Substantial progress has been made in taking into account the interests of the British bus industry. Indeed, we have worked very closely with the industry to ensure that that happens. We shall continue to do so and we shall continue to seek to ensure that the industry's interests are protected. I agree that the draft proposals are too prescriptive and we wish to make them less so.

My Lords, does not the search for harmonisation run directly contrary to our search for competition?

My Lords, no, I do not believe that that is the case. I should have thought that a harmonised market would make it easier to compete and to have more equal competition.