Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 80-99)



Miss McIntosh

  80. Does the Commission have a disappointment in that its transport policy should have come into effect in 1973 but we still have the situation where arguably there is still no common transport policy? You mentioned, Mr Rees, in your questioning, the Essen project from 1994, 14 projects, of which only three have been completed, according to the policy, and six others are in the construction phase and will not be finished until 2005. Is that not a disappointment to the Commission?
  (Mr Rees) The definition of a common transport policy is rather vague and we are not disappointed with the progress we have made to date. Obviously we would like more progress to have been made, particularly in relation to railway policy, but we will wait and see where we go. We hope, with the White Paper, that we do move on. In relation to the specific question on the Essen project, yes, clearly it is a disappointment. One of the problems is that we have failed to find a way to bring private capital into the financing of these projects. This is something that we want to tackle in the future, and we have certain ideas about that.

  Miss McIntosh: Following on from the line of questioning Mr Stevenson was pursuing latterly when you answered questions about the fiscal harmonisation more particularly of fuel duties, we have taken substantial evidence on that, Mr Rees. I am slightly concerned that in the policy document on pages 82 and 83 the Commission sets out the promotion of bio-fuels. Perhaps I ought to state, Chairman, that I do have shares in BP and Shell as well.

  Chairman: I think we might have gathered that.

Miss McIntosh

  81. While it might be beneficial to certain farmers, whom happily I represent, would it not be better to go round the farms removing the Directives which exist in taxation before looking to bio-fuels, where I understand you are aiming at 6 per cent by 2010? I understand that it is written elsewhere that figure is 20 per cent by 2010. When you think that is from nowhere, and we are now at 2002 and the Directives are not expected to be agreed before the end of this year, is the Commission not perhaps taking its eye off the ball? Should it not focus on fiscal differentials instead?
  (Mr Rees) I think we are forecasting on both but the question of bio-fuels tries to address the problem that I mentioned at the beginning, that we are uniquely dependent in the transport sector on imported resources of oil. As the North Sea fields begin to run down, our dependency increases and with the sort of instability we have been experiencing lately, clearly we have to think about what we are going to do about this. One of the ways to tackle it in the reasonably short run is to use established technology to develop bio-fuels. In the longer run, we will move to new sources of fuel, particularly hydrogen. This is the way we would be likely to go, but in the short to medium term, certainly we should try to do something to develop bio-fuels.

  82. In reply to an earlier question on freight, may I ask: is the Commission not deeply concerned by the action of the French at the moment, and I gather this is still ongoing - and obviously EWS have been the main sufferers of this - that the French have decided they will only do the security checks on freight between 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock in the morning and that has caused enormous disruption to the freight transport through the Channel Tunnel? What representations have the Commission received and what action has the Commission taken or threatened against the French Government?
  (Mr Rees) This really goes outside the field of transport policy. Clearly we are concerned with this because of the effect of the restrictions on movement through the Tunnel in relation to international traffic to and from the UK. If we are going to try to help to develop the railways, this is not really going to help in any way to achieve the Community goals overall. We are looking at the question and we have posed questions to the French authorities over what we are doing. As I understand it, in relation to the information that they have, the French Railways, SNCC, is currently constructing security fences around the Frethun terminal, in the same way that Eurotunnel have done for their part of the terminal. Hopefully, this will help to resolve the situation.

  Miss McIntosh: Finally, may I ask Mr Rees: has the Commission drawn any conclusions, if there are going to be more rail journeys taken on short European journeys, on what impact this will have on European air traffic flows? Would the Commission be able to furnish, if not today perhaps in the course of this inquiry, annual statistics of the number of aircraft movements, particularly in the area, say, looking at Manchester-Hamburg, Munich-Bordeaux?


  83. I think those statistics are available, Mr Rees. I do not know if they are particularly held in the Commission.
  (Mr Rees) Yes, those statistics are available. I think that, if you normally look on the website of the companies or the airports concerned, you will find those.

Miss McIntosh

  84. Could I ask what Commission conclusions have been drawn if the Commission's ambition is achieved and more people take rail journeys as opposed to short haul air travel? What implications can you expect in the future from that?
  (Mr Rees) I should make it clear that the Commission is not made up of railway enthusiasts. We are not recommending that people go by train simply because we like trains.


  85. That is a shame! I already had reservations about the Commission!
  (Mr Rees) The question is that we want to keep mobility and, if we are going to try to meet the demand I was talking about earlier, we have to make the best use of all resources. There are certain corridors, short to medium distances with heavy traffic flows, where high-speed rail can feasibly take the place of planes. It cannot take the place of planes over many journeys. We are saying: would it not be sensible to try to direct the thrust of railway policy for the high-speed lines and make certain that they offer services where we can take out air services and free space for services where there is not competition?

Mr O'Brien

  86. We have received two documents from your office, Mr Rees: the White Paper and the statistics. On page 40 in the White Paper it refers to a linking up of sea, inland waterways and rail. Then you refer to the intra-Community maritime transport and inland waterways transport. What is the Commission doing to lift up the question of using waterways and developing motorways of the sea? There is a brief reference to it in here. What is the real problem?
  (Mr Rees) Clearly, the part of the transport sector with the most capacity is the sea and inland waterways. The problem with these particular parts of the transport sector is not that they have capacity; it is a problem basically of ports and organisation. We are attempting, and we have a number of programmes, both of research and to implement the development of new schemes, to try to make seamless journeys through ports. One of the classical examples, Mr O'Brien, is the disappearance, for instance, of traffic in the North Sea from Scandinavia to the Benelux countries. Whereas 20 or 30 years ago coastal shipping was the main mode of transport, now it has disappeared in favour of road transport. The reason for this is quality of service again. We are trying with the professions concerned to put some support money in to get a better reorganisation of the shipping services with the land services and in this way offer a service which really competes with road transport, and hopefully then persuade shippers to go by a short sea journey, by sea motorway as we call it, rather than by road.

  87. Is there any money for infrastructure both for ports and inland waterways?
  (Mr Rees) Yes. We have recently, and it has been adopted by the Council and the Parliament, put in money for a series of ports within the trans-European networks that can receive support for improvement works. We are also thinking in terms of the Marco Polo programme that I mentioned earlier and of giving a substantial part of the money available in this programme, when it becomes available, to the maritime sector.

  88. In the document on page 92 you refer to the enlargement and the need for adopting standards, et cetera, for the 15 nations. How will that apply to the programme that you have just referred to, the countries that will be admitted in the very near future? Will they be attracting more resources for inland waterways than Great Britain and some of the coastal ports? How do you see the programme for the future?
  (Mr Rees) In relation to inland waterways, of course the inland waterways for the UK are coastal shipping. We shall treat coastal shipping and inland waterways in terms of support on an equal footing. Some of the accession countries have important waterways, particularly if they have an access to the Danube. The Danube is a very under-used resource at present. Clearly we would want to try to stimulate work to make an improved use of the Danube, but for countries around the Baltic, such as the Baltic States and Poland obviously, coastal shipping, as in the UK, would be the way to go forward. We will be looking to develop programmes with these countries when they come in to exploit better these possibilities.

  89. Will the UK qualify for immediate assistance for helping with waterways development, in view of the reference in the document about building sea motorways?
  (Mr Rees) I think there are not too many commercial waterways in the UK.


  90. Could I ask you a question about the one which you quote in the White Paper, which you say is a very successful development, which is the ferry between Genoa and Barcelona?
  (Mr Rees) Yes. This is Grimaldi Lines.

  91. Did that receive any support from the Commission?
  (Mr Rees) No.

  92. None at all?
  (Mr Rees) No.

  93. Does it receive any kind of state support from either country?
  (Mr Rees) It would have been from Italy, and we are not aware of that.

  Chairman: That is not quite the same thing. Mr O'Brien.

Mr O'Brien

  94. What I was pressing you on there, Mr Rees, is the fact that our inland waterways and the ports which are necessary for the connections are in need of some infrastructure development. Is there anything from the European Commission to help with that?
  (Mr Rees) Possibly, Mr O'Brien, but I should not give you too much hope there, because there may be isolated parts of the British waterways network which are open—I know they are open—for commercial traffic, and there there may be some possibilities. In terms of the UK, though, I think the most interesting development is the coastal shipping where the development of services from the North East or from Scotland to ports in the Northern Basin would clearly be something of interest to take traffic off the roads. These could be things that would come up under the Marco Polo operation and they could be supported. The ports work, if there was any ports work, could also qualify for support under the trans-European networks operation.

  95. Could I put one more question to you about inland or seaborne traffic? According to the statistics on page 32, we are advised that there are 154.1 million tonnes of coal imported into Europe. How much transport of that coal is subsidised by their member countries, which does disadvantage the transporters of that kind of fuel in Europe?
  (Mr Rees) I have to say that I do not know. We have a problem with coal subsidies, extraction of coal from deep mines, but we are not aware that there is any systematic state subsidy given for the transport of coal, and it would be rather surprising if it was, because both in relation to railways and coastal shipping—on the Rhine in particular—the transport of coal is economical and cheap.

  Mr O'Brien: What about the coal from South Africa? The point I am making here is that there is a lot of volume coming into Europe, and it is subsidised. What I am wanting to obtain, if it is possible, is the level of that subsidy which does impact upon the shipping companies within Europe; that if there are subsidies being applied by South Africa, or Colombia or the United States, then I think we should know about that, so that we can at least identify fairness with the shipping transactions in Europe that are involved.


  96. Mr Rees, do you want to go away and look at this, see if you have any information and let us know?
  (Mr Rees) Yes.

Andrew Bennett

  97. Very quickly, is there any good news for walking?
  (Mr Rees) For walking? Walking should be the most popular mode of transport in the Community, but I think it would be wrong for the Commission to put its nose into that. We talk about cycling in quite a number of places where we believe that cycling should be encouraged. Clearly, if I may, this is the period after 2010, because one point I made at the beginning is that we have to rethink the relationship between transport and land-use planning, particularly in urban areas. If we can arrange our city structures in the future to facilitate walking, this will take out motorised transport, this will be an ideal thing, and we can, in the context of our framework programmes, look at city strategies and the way cities are organised and try to help this .

  98. Then why not have targets for encouraging walking in this report?
  (Mr Rees) We did not think it was feasible.

  Mr Donohoe: I would not like to go from Scotland to the Mediterranean walking anyway!

Andrew Bennett

  99. With regard to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation, the Commission wants to be upfront in this. Is this going to cause problems for the Member States?
  (Mr Rees) The Commission would like the Community to be upfront in these organisations and in relation, say, to maritime safety. After the Erika accident, where the Community started to push on alone and to implement standards, say, to remove single-hulled tankers, we saw that the IMO came along quite quickly behind us. I think this is an illustration of the fact that the Community uses its muscle as 15 rather than as 15 times one. We can move those organisations further along in the direction in which the Community wants to go. It is not the Commission wanting to get in on the act. The Commission already goes to their meetings. What we want to do is the Community, where we have Community competence, to act as one.

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