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

Examination of Witness (Questions 100-119)




  100. Frankly, I think this is very important, because, of course, you would undermine the existing membership of the Member States, would you not?
  (Mr Rees) I think we reinforce it, madam Chairman, because if the Community can act as one voice, surely then we—

  101. No, with respect, Mr Rees, you are actually emphasising exactly the point. Individual countries are in both these organisations, and certainly the United Kingdom is way ahead of a lot of these countries that are involved in both these international organisations in implementing safety standards. Now you are saying, and you continue to say, that the 15 will speak with one voice. With respect, if the 15 spoke with one voice now—from choice, not from duress—we would not be in the situation that we are in in relation to safety, would we?
  (Mr Rees) Madam Chairman, there is one point that I did not make, and I apologise to you for that, that of course when I was saying about acting with one voice, that is only for those areas where there is one Community policy.

  102. With respect, unlike some European languages, this has an enormous number of conditional tenses which are very general in their application and yet would give permission to the Commission to intervene in many, many aspects of transport planning.
  (Mr Rees) The Commission can only, as you say, intervene through making proposals which the Member States at the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have to approve. The Commission's powers to intervene directly are limited.

  103. So why would it be an improvement to have you sitting in international organisations, instead of the member States themselves?
  (Mr Rees) We already sit as observers.

  104. There is rather a difference.
  (Mr Rees) There is a difference, in that we are talking here about where there is a Community law in force, and all Community Members are required to follow this law. Once you are required to follow the law, the logic is that the Community speaks as a bloc. On areas where there is not a Community competence, then the Member States obviously express their own views.

Andrew Bennett

  105. There is a danger that you would become the lowest common denominator rather than the highest on that principle, would you not?
  (Mr Rees) That is a danger. Let us try to get the highest common denominator.

  106. Now seatbelts. You have negotiations with the manufacturers as far as fuel consumption, end-use Directive, all of those things, are concerned. Would it not be simpler just to require manufacturers not to allow the car to start unless the seatbelt was engaged?
  (Mr Rees) It might. I do not know whether it would be technically feasible, but I can ask my colleagues.

  Chairman: It is done all over the United States.

Andrew Bennett

  107. In the document you talk about a second package of measures. Is the Directive that you were talking about today what is referred to on pages 27 to 30?
  (Mr Rees) Sorry, a second package of railway measures?

  108. Yes.
  (Mr Rees) Yes, those are the measures that the Commission has approved today.

  109. On congestion charging or road pricing, who is going to break the ice in Europe and get it under way?
  (Mr Rees) The German authorities have already decided to bring in a kilometre-based pricing system for heavy goods vehicles from 2003. There is a legal problem now, but anyway it will probably be later than 2003. That is nothing to do with the principle, but simply a legal problem in terms of procurement. So the Germans start. The Dutch have a policy also to apply it to heavy goods vehicles and to private cars. Austria is also thinking of doing the same thing. In London, as you know better than I do, there is also a proposal by the Mayor of London for central London congestion charging.

  110. Now I want to ask you about milestones, but kilometre-stones for this document. Are we going to have some way in which the general public can measure how far this document is succeeding in years two, three and four, or are we just going to wait till the end and see whether it is totally forgotten?
  (Mr Rees) It is a very good point. One issue that I have not stressed to you is the need to bring the general public along with us, because it is not only going to be difficult for politicians to make these decisions, it is going to be impossible if the general public does not understand why it cannot see the benefit.


  111. Even worse if they do not agree.
  (Mr Rees) Well ..... We have built in milestones. The first one is at 2005. We cannot having anything before. What we are proposing to do in 2005 is to issue a report on progress. One of the things obviously that we can look at is safety and whether the voluntary efforts in relation to safety are working. We can report on this and see what the reaction is. So we have to do this. We realise that we have not done it as well as we should done in the past, and we want to do it better in the future. The first one is from 2005 and then 2008.

Andrew Bennett

  112. Are there not too many goods being moved around in Europe? Would it not be far better if we reduced the amount being moved around in Europe?
  (Mr Rees) As you know, in the Gothenburg Summit last year it was decided to decouple—as the jargon word is—to try to dissociate economic growth from transport growth. It is very difficult. Clearly, one has to address this question in the light of charging the users of the transport system for the full cost, both direct and indirect. If they paid the full cost, both direct and indirect, and still want to use transport services, I think that in a Community which is based on freedom we would find it very difficult to say no.

  113. So is this document really emphasising that it wants to make it easier for goods and people to move around in Europe, or is it wanting to try to encourage more sensible use of resources?
  (Mr Rees) The easy answer—and it is an easy answer, I am afraid—is both. What we want to do is to create a sustainable transport system where transport users pay their real costs. Let me cite an example for you. Diesel is the same as light-oil use for household heating. Even better, let me cite the case of Belgium. The taxation rate in Belgium for diesel used in transport and light-oil used for house heating is 500 per cent different; it still emits the same amount of carbon. We have to try to achieve a balance in the European economy when we are looking at sustainability, and we do not want to demonise certain sectors like transport and say, "Transport—too much of it, don't want any more." We want to achieve a balance between all the activities that lead to the creation of greenhouse gases, emissions, environmental nuisances, and try to have a balanced approach which tackles the worst problems first. Transport has bad problems, but there are other sectors of the European economy with problems too.

  114. Let me take one example, beer, 20 years ago in my constituency most of the beer that was drunk was brewed within about 20 miles of the area. Ought the government in the United Kingdom to be encouraging local consumption of beer. I understand that in the Chancellor's proposals for the budget there are to be excise concessions for small local breweries. Would that not be a good idea to reduce the number of lorries that are shuttling beer and lager and other things round Europe?
  (Mr Rees) This is a question of consumer choice.

Mr Donohoe

  115. No, it is not.
  (Mr Rees) The interesting thing is if you look at the way in which freight transport has developed—freight transport has developed in general faster than the rate of economic growth—we are not moving many more tons round but the ton is moving longer. Instead of moving a hog's head of beer 20 miles 30 years ago we now get kegs coming 200 miles. The local pub then has a selection of different beers.


  116. Mr Rees, you are losing your public here. I just want to ask you one thing, you have been very tolerant and you have been very interesting, how many people do you have in your section?
  (Mr Rees) In the Transport Directorate as a whole, I am the head of unit and my section only has 15 people.

  117. Do they deal with aviation?
  (Mr Rees) They deal with aviation economics. In the Aviation Directorate there are round 70 people.

  118. Are those 70 people capable of carrying out all of the negotiations for all of the European airlines in relation to foreign countries, instead of bilateral organisations between the countries concerned?
  (Mr Rees) We would not intend to do that, it would be the Member States carrying on negotiations on a common footing to ensure—

  119. What is the difference between a common footing and an agreed negotiation by the European Commission?
  (Mr Rees) The common footing stops us being picked up one by one by large countries.

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