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European Community (Transport)

10.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I beg to move

That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 7325/88 on transport infrastructure and 6047/88 on aids for transport ; and endorses the Government's opposition both to the creation of a transport infrastructure spending instrument and to the extension of Regulation (EEC) No. 1107/70 to cover the granting of aids for certain transport operating costs.

We are considering two proposals. The first, document 7325/88, would create a spending programme for transport infrastructure. The Commission would use general criteria to select projects from a generalised list, and would ascribe to its selection funding drawn from the transport infrastructure line of the European budget. The programme would run until the end of 1992.

The Government welcome some aspects. We accept the need to review whether there are gaps or bottlenecks in the Community transport network. We are, however, opposed to the measure as a whole. The Community should not proliferate spending instruments. Transport infrastructure can be and is supported from the Community's existing structural funds--for example, the European regional development fund. Structural funds are being substantially increased up to 1993. Where schemes are not eligible for existing funds, they should be provided at the expense of member states or by private funding.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : I am delighted to hear of the Government's opposition to this new extravagance by the EEC, and particularly to the proposed spending on the infrastructure of the Channel tunnel, but will the Minister tell us whether the proposal will be decided by majority vote by the EEC Council of Ministers--in which case the Government's objection can be overruled--or whether there must be unanimity? In other words, are we wasting our time tonight because the matter will be decided by majority vote on the Council?

Mr. Bottomley : It would be decided by majority vote, but I do not believe that we are wasting our time, and I hope that others will take the view that the Government are inviting the House to take. If this is one of the occasions on which my hon. Friend says that he is wasting his time by being here, the House may miss hearing what he has to say later.

It is impossible to assess the financial implications of the proposal as no figures for costs of schemes or allocation of funding by the Commission appear in it. We believe that the Council and not the Commission should have the determining role over financial allocation.

The second document, 6047/88, would prolong to 1992 existing arrangements which empower member states to grant subsidies for infrastructure investment in connection with combined transport operations. It would also allow aids to be granted against operating costs associated with combined transport.

The existing arrangements have been in place since 1982 but member states have made little use of them. Equally little use has been made of the existing combined transport facilities by either the United Kingdom or other states' hauliers.

The Government can accept, without much enthusiasm, the extension of existing powers for subsidies for

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infrastructure investment. We are opposed to the extension of the scope to embrace operating costs as well. Although the draft directive refers to the granting of aids "as a temporary measure," the word "temporary" is not defined. The proposal could open a loophole for the continuing payment of operating cost subsidies by some member states.

Subsidies distort competition. Freight transport should operate on a commercial basis. If these types of operation or their infrastructure are in demand, there should be no problem about providing appropriate facilities on a commercial basis. The Government are opposed to both measures. The House should endorse the motion.

10.19 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : If we had an excellent road system that enabled private vehicles and commercial freight to travel on it, the Minister's comments might have had some substance. Similarly, if we had a rail system by which freight and passenger transport could travel with ease throughout the country, the Minister's remarks might have been relevant. The reality is that we have one of the worst road and rail systems in western Europe.

The Minister referred to Britain being able to compete on equal terms, but he is some years out of date. He said that there was no room for subsidy in the allocation of freight costs, but I must point out to him that for many years West Germany heavily subsidised new freight handling facilities. Similarly, if the Minister looks at what is happening in France, he will see that the French have been happy to take advantage of the money that has been made available by the European Community. That is the reason why Britain lags so far behind West Germany and France in its ability to carry passengers and freight.

I do not disagree with all that the Minister said. The Opposition are adamant that matters of this kind should not be decided by the Commission. I represent a constituency in the north-east. A quick glance at the Commission's proposals shows that the Commission has no idea that part of this nation lies outside the south-east. The Commission's action programme is confined exclusively to activities in the south-east--to London and the Channel tunnel. People who live elsewhere in the country object to proposals of that kind.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : I think I heard the hon. Gentleman say that he does not oppose all that my hon. Friend the Minister said. So that we can make sense of his remarks, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether he is for or against the motion?

Mr. Lloyd : There are two documents before the House. The Government, with a degree of sleight of hand, have confused the two and put them together, so it is important to spell out the Opposition's disagreement and agreement. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, that agreement and disagreement will become apparent. It is unacceptable that the Commission should decide the priorities that are applicable to this country. The Minister regaled the House with his Euro anger. He said that it would be unacceptable to take money for this purpose from the Community. I remind him, however, of the comments of his hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Stewart) in a debate on the European Communities budget in 1984. Money was being allocated by the European Community for the transport

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infrastructure. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) asked his hon. Friend whether these matters ought to be decided by national Governments, and the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North said :

"Decisions on road building are for the Government to make, and will remain so. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome, as much as I do, any Community funds that are available to assist with the financing of such roads and to solve the problem of our refunds."--[ Official Report, 20 February 1984 ; Vol. 54, c. 576.] I must put into context my reason for giving that quotation. Can the Minister respond to the question that was put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who asked about the criteria for majority voting? We know from experience that majority voting means that the British Government have to accept what is imposed by other European Community countries. Will the Minister make it clear in his closing remarks whether he expects Britain to receive support within the Council of Ministers on these matters?

Mr. Peter Bottomley : It always strikes me as better to consider the proposal on its merits first, and then to consider other countries' attitudes. As I understand it, our opposition to the proposal on infrastructure is shared by Germany, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, so we expect that the proposal will not be adopted. We believe that most other countries share our lukewarm attitude to the proposal on combined transport. [Interruption.] It is unclear whether the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) is speaking in opposition to the Government's attitude or is talking to his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), whom we welcome back to transport. I do not know whether the combined transport proposal will ever be adopted by the Community.

Mr. Lloyd : I want to welcome the Minister back to transport because he does not seem to have discussed transport yet. On the basis of what he has told us, it is unclear whether the Government expect that there will be a qualified majority in favour of the proposal that deals with combined transport initiatives. It is important for the House to know. We know that the Germans, French, Belgians, Danes and Dutch have all adopted similar infrastructure schemes and have received money from the European Community. The Minister has expressed some surprise about that, so I suggest that he reads the documentation that has been made available by the Vote Office. It gives precise details about the nations that have received support for such schemes in the past.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : I am not sure whether I am helping or hindering by intervening occasionally. On page 6 of the letter of 6 May 1988 from the Commission, it says, "Germany : no aids granted."

Mr. Lloyd : I have had the advantage of reading the whole document, which the Minister has not. If he reads a little further he will see it spelt out comprehensively that the reason the Germans did not receive aid under that heading was that they received aid under a different heading. If the Minister wants to debate the issue seriously, will he read the documents before coming to the House? It is important to argue on the basis of facts, rather than play a silly Oxford Union debating game--in which

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I have no ambition to take part. The Germans have received money from the Community over many years for such activities. The Germans no longer require that money because they have finished their programme of investment in aids to combined transport schemes and have a system that operates in the way in which ours should. I am pleased that the Minister for Public Transport is with us this evening. Outside the south- east there is considerable concern about the Channel tunnel and about the capacity of the regions to have an adequate investment in the road and rail freight facilities that most people in the transport industry accept are needed in order to maximise the benefits of the rail system through the tunnel into Europe. The European Community scheme that we are discussing would at least have the merit of making money available for such schemes. I stress again that those schemes are far better carried out when the priorities are established by national Governments. However, this Government want the worst of both worlds. They want to deny the European Community the ability to finance the schemes, yet they want to turn their back on regions such as my own in the north-west, Yorkshire, Humberside and Scotland. They say that unless the private sector is prepared to provide the finance it will not be available. The Government have made it clear-- and the Minister has reiterated the point--that freight transport must operate on a commercial basis, without subsidies. Can the Minister tell us why Britain alone in western Europe takes that view?

The Minister says that the Government believe that private funds will be available to meet infrastructure demands. Can he tell us why other countries have invested in schemes to ensure that they allow for development of the freight industry based on an integrated approach? Such development does not take place overnight. Does the Minister seriously believe that the market system has been able to allocate costs acceptably when he knows that schemes are being put forward throughout the country in terms, for example, of consultations with British Rail, under section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, which, when it comes to the crunch, the Government will refuse to finance, on narrow financial grounds, taking no account whatsoever of the regional and social costs that will be imposed by such a refusal? Such subsidies are needed in the context of the Channel tunnel. Such subsidies have been recognised by the French in their investments in north-eastern France, and by the West Germans in their investments between 1980 and 1985. I accept that the Minister did not know about that investment, but if he reads the document it will become apparent to him that the West Germans made that kind of investment. Is the Minister aware that we in Britain are the ones who are out of step in terms of such investment? We shall vote against the Government precisely because of their dog-in-the-manger attitude to that kind of investment. We shall vote against the motion, which congratulates the Government on their pig-headed, obstinate and ostrich-like stance in not being prepared to accept the benefits of such investment in freight handling schemes. If the Minister will say that the Government have had a change of view, if instead of saying that freight should operate only on a commercial basis and without subsidy, if he will stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he has reviewed the situation and recognises the crassness and foolishness of the Government's position and the unfairness of its impact on regions outside the south-east,

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and if the Minister, who represents a south- eastern seat and a south-eastern Government, is prepared to say that at last the Government recognise that they have got it wrong in terms of a freight structure for the rest of the nation, Opposition Members will be prepared to reconsider their decision on which way to vote. However, we know that the Minister will not do that. We know that the Government are locked into the market forces game.

Even at Question Time today, the Minister said that the public were often unaware of the causes of the holdups on our motorways. He waxed eloquent about the tragedies of the accidents on our motorways. Is he aware that our motorway system is often clogged up, not because of accidents, but because of incompetence in his Department, in the repair programme for which it has been responsible for 10 years, and because of its failure to invest in a decent roads programme over those years? That is why we cannot afford to turn our backs on the concept of combined transportation schemes or on the idea of an integrated road-rail system. Until the Minister frees the motorway system, the Opposition will have to take the Government to task for their inability to invest in the future.

Therefore, I challenge the Minister. If he is prepared to accept that market forces are not delivering the goods, have not delivered the goods, and will not deliver the goods in the future, we shall reconsider the way in which we shall vote tonight. However, in the absence of that kind of commitment, I advise the Minister that we shall vote against the Government and their pig-headed stance because we are determined to see properly funded public and private transport industries operating in conjunction with each other, in the interests of the whole nation.

10.33 pm

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : The two documents that we are considering are clearly separate. One deals with subsidies for infrastructure and the other with aids for transport. We should separate the two in our minds, although the Opposition have not quite done so. The infrastructure problem has been there ever since we joined the Community in 1973. If we do not consider it carefully, it could be as big a financial disaster as the common agricultural policy.

I have not heard the peripheral regions of Europe mentioned, but those are the areas where there is great need for infrastructure. When I was a Member of the European Parliament we drew up a document dealing with the bridges and tunnels of Europe. Achieving a mere tenth of its proposals would involve the most enormous budget. Infrastructures are most needed in places such as Sicily in southern Italy and Greece. Portugal is another. Their infrastructure cannot possibly be compared to ours.

If the Government support the proposal, they must be prepared to make considerable injections of money, to pay for infrastructure, decided at the whim of the Commissioners, who represent countries where the infrastructure is poor. If we are to have a Messina bridge and all the tunnels that are needed throughout the Community, we are talking about billions of ecu. We cannot write a blank cheque for infrastructure.

Transport, whether by road, rail or air, is essential in the modern Community, but once again the costs are horrendous. If we are to subsidise everyone who applies to Brussels for an aviation link or help with a transport project, a blank cheque will be required. It is possible to

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think European by thinking like a Sicilian, Italian or Greek. That is what they want. It is why they joined. They want the wealthier countries to support their infrastructure. Ports, airports and motorways enable them to get their goods to the heart of the Community market. They are vital to them, but they are not quite so vital to us.

We have immense trouble with the common agricultural policy, but we might have a burden which is almost sufficient to break the Community budget's back. That is not what the Commissioners want. They mention the fact, as a sop to us, that there is the European Investment Bank, but it was around when Anthony Crosland was Secretary of State for Transport. It was prepared to hand over 200 million ecu to start off the Channel tunnel. Now, that sum would not build the first two or three miles.

The Opposition are opposing for the wrong reasons. They must ask themselves whether they want the United Kingdom, France and Germany to bear another heavy burden. The proposals would represent a colossal burden for countries with good infrastructure. My hon. Friend the Minister is right. Moves forward must be hesitant, careful and silent because, at the slightest sign of our being ready to agree to this enormous budget, we will land the wealthier nations with a colossal bill.

10.38 pm

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) has just treated us to an extraordinary speech, and one which I did not expect to hear. He said, with enormous complacency, that all the problems are abroad. One wonders whether he has ever driven on one of our motorways or seen passengers in second-class InterCity carriages sitting on the floor because there are not enough seats.

The hon. Gentleman's view is extraordinary, especially to people in my part of the country, which many people regard as a peripheral area of the European Community. It has suffered from lack of investment and it suffers from lack of infrastructure as a result of the policies of a Government who are not prepared to invest.

I welcome the EEC initiative to extend the period during which member states are allowed to give aid to develop good transport infrastructure because we need it. I regret that while the Government welcome the aim of developing a Community-wide transport policy they have not seen fit to seize the opportunity for the benefit of this country's infrastructure. Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman is to be believed, they do not even see the need to seize the opportunity. I have argued that we need an integrated transport strategy for Britain. As our roads clog up, the Government's policies stall. Their attitude could not be better summed up than in the letter of 2 September 1986 in which the Government

"informed the Commission services that no aids are granted to promote combined Transport in the United Kingdom."

Just what we have always said. That is the Government's position. They spell it out for us. That lack of action is typical of a Government who are all too willing to shed large crocodile tears over the transport difficulties of ordinary men and women as they attempt to travel without providing the necessary financial handkerchief to mop up the resulting puddle. The attitude is typified by the lack of any major transport legislation this Session, despite the growing public concern about the huge traffic jams on our

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roads, an M25 which has been stalled from the day it was opened, crowded airways and a public transport network so overcrowded in some areas that it presents a threat to safety.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : What sort of legislation does the hon. Gentleman have in mind? Is he proposing that we should get rid of the statutory processes? He talked about the M25 being stalled from the day it was opened. Is he aware that vehicles travel 6,000 million kms a year on it?

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : Very slowly.

Mr. Taylor : Yes, very slowly. That reminds me of the advertisement for the Vauxhall Nova where a car drives on the roofs of others. Perhaps that will be the solution.

The crocodile tears for transport bear a striking resemblance to the equally large tears that the Government shed over the environment and their failure to introduce legislation to improve the position. The two issues are connected because part of what the EC presents through these documents is precisely the means to tackle many of the environmental problems that people face in their everyday lives. As the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) said, our European partners, notably France, West Germany, Belgium and Denmark, have seized the ability to grant aid to develop their infrastructure. In particular, they have improved terminals to facilitate rail freight. It is a shame that the British Government have to be dragged kicking and screaming to make the kind of investment that our people cry out for.

The Government claim that

"freight transport should operate on a commercial basis without subsidy."

Freight already receives a subsidy as road building is undertaken by taxpayers. Only this month the Department of Transport announced that more than £4 billion will be spent on main roads over the next three years. I have got that wrong : the Government "invest" in road building and "subsidise" railways. What a difference in attitude.-- [Hon. Members :-- "Talk about the Community."] I am talking about the Government's attitude to the motion on these EC documents and the opportunities that they present.

The Government claim that if there were sufficient demand "private funds would be available to meet infrastructure costs." Would those funds be sufficient to meet the other costs associated with road usage? In Spain, which is often cited as a private road paradise, the accident rate on parallel public roads has increased enormously and Spanish transport officials admit that the scheme is "utterly disastrous". Is that the kind of paradise that the Minister envisages for us or does he hope to eliminate accidents altogether by binding up the road system so much that nothing is moving and nobody is in any danger of being run over?

The Government seem to imply that only direct financial implications are important, but surely a wider perspective is called for and Europe offers us that. This so-called Green Government, as chief defenders of environmental protection, must surely be aware of the environmental hazards of heavy lorries with their noise

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pollution, and the destruction of areas of special scientific interest as a result of road building. The Government, as so-called chief defenders of the National Health Service, must surely be aware of the £2.8 billion spent by it in 1985 as a result of road accidents. I know that the Minister is aware of that as I have heard him talk about it. That is the cost of too many wasteful, tragic experiences for too many families in Britain and it could be avoided. The Government, as so-called chief defenders of the economy--no doubt we shall hear more about that tomorrow--must surely be aware of the estimate by John Banham, the director-general of the CBI, that £5 billion is being poured down the drain in congestion costs. The EC legislation, 1992 and the opening of the Channel tunnel provide a unique opportunity to integrate and streamline our transport operation with the rest of Europe.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Does the hon. Gentleman want to integrate Common Market heavy lorry standards by increasing the size of our juggernauts to 44 tonnes and allowing bigger, more intrusive lorries on our roads, or does he favour only a partial integration excluding juggernauts?

Mr. Taylor : The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the context in which I used the word "integration". I am talking about integration of transport in terms of road, rail and air. Taking vehicles off the roads would tackle precisely the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman raises. I am sure that he would welcome such a policy.

Combined transport, particularly where it reduces congestion, increases road safety, conserves energy and allows better use of existing rail capacity, is an opportunity provided by the documents that we are debating. People in many areas throughout the country are concerned that the benefits that the Channel tunnel can bring will be felt only in the south-east where many people fear the prospect of too much growth and too much congestion. The Government plan to construct a link that will certainly leave out areas such as my constituency. Without electrification through Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, Britain's premier tourist area will be cut off from one of Britain's premier tourist routes.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : Looking at article 3 on page 4, I do not see any of the European Communities generalised list coming anywhere near the premier tourist resorts of England. Perhaps we are talking about different proposals.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : Just to stick the boot in twice, my point is very much the same. I hope that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) will join me at least in criticising the Commission whose view of Britain encompasses the land that lies between Dover and London. There is no mention whatsoever of any investment outside the south-east. The hon. Gentleman and I are on similar ground in that we want investment into what the Government regard as peripheral areas. I live in such an area and I know that they are not peripheral but the Commission mentions nothing about that.

Mr. Taylor : I am not suggesting that the Commission is adequate, but it is moving in the right direction. The Government's response is to write out any concept of integrated strategy for public transport which is the first prerequisite for tackling the problems that we agree exist.

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It is simply not enough for the Government to encourage private finance and abdicate responsibility for the rest of the infrastructure. That is the option that the Government put forward. They say that private sector finance is fine, but what the public sector could do to solve the problems is written out of the agenda altogether.

The EC initiative concerns an integrated transport strategy. It recognises the role of the public sector in providing safe, reliable, cheap and efficient transport. It points to the environmental advantages of such a strategy. Because of those things, it comes as no surprise that the Government have proposed the motion to reject them. I hope that the House will not follow that example and will oppose the motion as a short-sighted, mean-spirited response to the opportunity that Europe's attitude to transport begins to present. 10.50 pm

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham) : I hope that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument. I do not feel that anything he said had any relevance to the documents before the House and I suspect that the series of disjointed cliches that he offered to the House owed more to an overpaid research assistant than to any relevance to the debate.

I should like to direct my remarks to the important major proposal by the European Commission for a major new fund for infrastructure investment throughout the European Community. The fact that no price has been put on it is alarming considering the past experience of the Community. An unlimited fund is proposed to spend on projects that the European Community deems to be in the interests of the Community as a whole.

It is strange that the proposal is being opposed by the Government--an opposition I warmly support--yet the Labour party, which is usually in opposition to the Community, is supporting an open-ended commitment to spending without limit. Whatever tortuous arguments the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) may advance, the fact remains that he and his colleagues are supporting a major Euro-project which involves itself in the United Kingdom's spending plans. It offers a blank cheque to the Community to increase spending throughout.

Mr. Tony Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening. I made it clear that because of the incompetence of the infrastructure programme and its unacceptability to most of the nation, certainly those outside the south-east, we could not support the infrastructure scheme. However, I pointed out that there are two documents under consideration.

Mr. Moate : Therefore, the hon. Gentleman will support the Government on the infrastructure proposal.-- [Interruption.] I am sorry to pursue the point but I want to be clear that the Opposition will not oppose us in the Lobby tonight.

Mr. Lloyd : We will.

Mr. Moate : At last we have clarification. I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman will not vote against the Government.

Mr. Lloyd : We will vote against the Government.

Mr. Moate : This is very difficult. The Opposition will vote against the Government in support of Community

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spending even though they are against it. That is wonderful. The position is clear if one can have clarity from such a dense fog. In fact, things are even more ironic. I must now cause a little less pleasure on the Government Front Bench. Whatever the House does will have little relevance. My hon. Friend the Minister was sanguine about the prospects of defeating the proposal in the Council of Ministers. I have heard suggestions that we will lose in the Council of Ministers and that there could be a majority in favour of the new infrastructure fund. I hope that I am wrong and that my hon. Friend is right, but neither of us knows. It could be that the House, led by the Government, will defeat the proposal. I am not sure whether the Opposition are for or against the measure but they intend to vote against it and could well win the day because it may be passed in the Community. Therefore, whether we like it or not, we might have forced upon us the new infrastructure fund for investing in major British transport projects.

Mr. Lloyd : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would care to remind hon. Members which side of the House voted in favour of the qualified majority system of voting in the Community.

Mr. Moate : I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he and I would be in total agreement that we should never have a majority voting factor in constitutional arrangements. However, he is not making it any easier for us by supporting the proposal against the Government. If he is against the proposal, why does he not add his voice by saying that he supports the Government's position?

Mr. Peter Bottomley : It might make all the difference.

Mr. Moate : Yes, and perhaps we can persuade Opposition Members to join us tonight in voting down this proposal.

Of course, none of us is satisfied with the current rail and road systems in this country, least of all, I suspect, my hon. Friend the Minister. We acknowledge that there is a vast amount to be done and we are all striving to do more. The answer does not lie in securing a small handout for projects that probably will not rate high in our priorities.

Leaving aside arguments about the theology of the European Community, surely any prosperous nation such as ours, the Germans and the French, should not look to the European Community to determine the quality of our roads or when and where we should find the investment and resources to develop our road and rail systems. If we were discussing a Third world country, a poor nation or an aid programme, the proposal might be logical, but we are not. Any argument about whether more funds should be directed to motorways or how those funds should be raised is one for the United Kingdom. We do not need the European Community to tell us how we should order our priorities. All that has nothing to do with whether one passionately believes in the European Community. The road programmes of the member states should be determined by their Governments.

The arguments across the House or with Ministers about whose roads should be highest in the order or priorities are for us to determine. Having sorted out our priorities, it would be a nonsense if the Community came along with our money, not the Community's, and said that another project should receive priority. That would be

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fundamentally wrong. The Government are right to oppose that concept, and I hope that they will carry the day.

If the proposal goes through, who knows where it will end? There is no limit on expenditure. Where does that leave a Conservative Government or, perish the thought, even a Labour Government in determining priorities for transport spending? I do not believe that Opposition Members, any more than I, want those priorities to be determined elsewhere.

Mr. Hill : Turkey has applied to join the European Community. I wonder what the costs of its infrastructure would be if the Commission wanted to help Turkey.

Mr. Moate : My hon. Friend is emphasising the tremendous danger of passing such a resolution. Indeed, we face danger whatever we do tonight. If the proposal is carried in the Commission by majority vote, we shall face that danger. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will find a solution to that difficult problem.

There is agreement across the House that we object to the fact that it is a Commission-produced proposal. It is extraordinary that a motion opposed by the British Government and, I understand, many other Governments of the member states is before us simply because it has been produced by the Commission. In all the years of debate about the European Community, I have never understood how we came to accept a constitutional arrangement whereby major policy proposals are produced by unelected civil servants. Tonight we have a classic example of how, time and again, matters come before us that are not Community proposals and that have not been produced by democratically elected Governments. Indeed, they have been opposed by many member states. Can we have some sanity in all this? Will my right hon. Friends propose some amendment to this extraordinary constitution so that the Commission stops producing material that only causes major disturbances within the Community?

One project that has any relevance to this country is the link which, presumably, involves the Channel tunnel and London. Here we have a project that the Government are quite clearly stating is to be financed by the private sector. I accept that Opposition Members might have different views about how the Channel tunnel should be financed. Nevertheless, the House of Commons and the country are determined that, if there is to be a Channel tunnel, it is to be financed by the private sector. But here we have a proposal that suggests that the European Commission would use British funds --funds that would come from this country--in one way or another to subsidise the privately financed Channel tunnel project. Whichever way we look at it, that makes a nonsense of that proposal.

Conservative Members surely cannot accept that there will be a breach of the fundamental promise that it will not involve public funds. This proposal would involve public funds. If it is to be a privately financed, private risk project, how on earth can Opposition Members accept that there will be a subsidy from public funds to bail out private investors? In terms, it is nonsense, and I cannot see how they can accept it.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : The hon. Gentleman does not appear to be aware that, even

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under the present proposals--quite apart from the proposal for the new transport fund, which we oppose also--there can be a claim by the Government for infrastructure expenditure as assistance in the Channel tunnel development, and the Government are actually claiming it. The money that is given by Britain to the Community, even under the old system, will be used to subsidise some of the investment in the Channel tunnel.

Mr. Moate : Again, the hon. Gentleman said that he is opposed to the infrastructure fund, but I remind him that he will vote in favour of it tonight.

Mr. Prescott : No.

Mr. Moate : Then Opposition Members must not vote against the Government in the Lobbies tonight.

Mr. Prescott : There are two documents.

Mr. Moate : I know, but there is to be one vote.

I return to the fundamental point that, according to the treaty and every promise that has been made to the country and to the House, public sector funds will not be involved in the Channel tunnel project. The measure is in direct conflict with that, and, therefore, I cannot see how on earth the House can approve it. On all counts, my hon. Friends have got this matter right tonight. We must strongly opposes the proposals here and in Brussels.

11.3 pm

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East) : The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has been having some fun at the expense of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) on how the Opposition will vote at the end of the debate. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough and has taken part in a sufficient number of EEC debates to know that the Opposition's problem is that the Government have grouped the two documents in one motion. Therefore, there is no opportunity for any Opposition Member or any other hon. Member to express a separate opinion on either document. If Opposition Members want to vote in favour of one document and against the other document, they have only one opportunity. That may be interpreted by the hon. Gentleman as voting for both documents. I am fairly certain that he accepts that my hon. Friends have made the Opposition's position absolutely clear. We shall vote against the infrastructure document and vote in favour of the integrated transport document. It is as simple as that, and the hon. Gentleman accepts it.

It is unfortunate that Scottish National party Members are not present. I do not intentionally attack them, because I did not give them notice that I would mention them in the debate. Recently there has been some debate in Scotland about Scotland being independent in Europe. It seems that Scottish Nationalist Members are in favour of a Scotland independent in Europe when they are discussing it with Kirsty Wark on "Left, Right and Centre" on BBC Scotland, or with Colin McKay on STV--

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : And Margo McDonald.

Mr. Ewing : And Margo McDonald, as my hon. Friend said--but not when we debate the issue at five past 11 on a Monday night. This matter is important to Scotland and its economy and in 1992 the transport system will be

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