Railways (Interoperability) (High-Speed) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Foster: I am grateful for the Minister's clear exposition of the Government's present thinking. He will be aware that there has never been a clear statement by the Government on their intention to go categorically for ERTMS 2, with the consequent implication that they would fail to meet the Cullen recommendations. Is he implying that they will definitely choose ERTMS 2, which will require a delay in implementing those recommendations?

Mr. Spellar: The hon. Gentleman will have noted that we are still awaiting the full work to be undertaken on ERTMS 2. We know that it is conceptually possible, but it is not yet ready. Everyone throughout Europe is clear on that. There is a broad consensus in the industry that it is the right way to go in terms of aggregate safety, cost-effectiveness and maintaining the capacity of the network. We must ensure that ERTMS 2 is developed satisfactorily and safely, which is an issue that faces not only the United Kingdom but other countries.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): It looks like the Minister is coming towards the end of his brief, and I am anxious for him to clarify a couple of matters before he concludes. I realise that the regulations relate to high-speed links, but other Departments are anticipating the enlargement of the European Union in 2004. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have a different rail gauge from that in the rest of Europe, and I wonder what the thinking is on how the regulations could or should apply to them.

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More importantly, since last Monday we have been legislating for Northern Ireland, to which regulation 32 relates. That bewilders me, and I should be grateful if the Minister were to clarify the position. Irish railways—railways in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland—also have a different gauge from that in the rest of Europe. For European purposes, Ireland has one high-speed link: the Dublin-Belfast line. How will the regulations apply to it? When he mentioned costs, was he talking about the United Kingdom mainland or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend will be aware that Northern Ireland railways have been discussed in the European Court. The discussion about the implementation of the directive in Northern Ireland was slightly esoteric because Northern Ireland does not have a line to which the directive would currently apply. The Commission argued that in the future there might be such a line, so the directive had to be implemented in Northern Ireland to establish compliance. I hope that that satisfies him, and if he has further questions I shall be happy to deal with them through correspondence.

The gauges in the Baltic states do not present an immediate problem of interoperability with the United Kingdom, but no doubt discussions will take place between the Commission and not only the Baltic states but the other applicant states.

Mr. Chope: Will the Minister address the issue raised by the Select Committee report of March 2002 on the costs of interoperability? I am referring to the estimate by the Railway Forum that the interoperability directives could cost as much as £1.5 billion.

Mr. Spellar: I said that we were aware that the conventional directive has potentially greater consequences, so we will examine it in some depth and share our thinking in due course. I take the point that interoperability has wider implications, although I hope that I have made it clear that the cost of the high-speed directive could be considerably lower than the original, unsubstantiated estimates in the regulatory impact assessment.

The hon. Member for Bath asked about European funding for the west coast main line. The upgrade project is in receipt of a limited amount of European support under the trans-European networks programme, which is not specifically geared to interoperability, and I can write to him with further details about that. As he is probably also aware, the money available in the TENs programme is not sufficient for the projects that have already been contracted, and it is certainly not sufficient for the increased projects that are currently being discussed. Obviously, the Transport Council is addressing that issue.

Tom Brake: It does not look like the Minister is going to answer my question about whether Eurostar will fall within the remit of the directive.

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Mr. Spellar: I was hoping that a note would appear to answer that point. As none has appeared, I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

Looking to the future, the Commission published a second rail package in January that included proposals to amend the two interoperability directives. Those proposals would bring the high-speed directive in line with the conventional one and extend the scope of the conventional directive to the rail networks of all member states. Detailed discussions on those proposals are ongoing in the European Transport Council and the European Parliament.

The key issue is that when the Opposition were in government they thought that the present course was the way forward. We continue to work with that policy. That provides us with a way of ensuring that we work together with the railway industry to make the best of the measures. To do that we must ensure that we are able to exploit opportunities for UK industry and take steps to mitigate potential costs or difficulties. Accordingly, I commend the recommendations to the Committee and invite the Opposition to withdraw their objection.

5.5 pm

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the Minister for his full explanation of the directive—and of another one that we expect will cost British industry a lot more. He has been a bit evasive about when we can expect a specific response from the Government to the Select Committee report that was published in March. That was, as I understand it, a unanimous all-party report. More than six months have elapsed since its publication. A realistic concern was expressed in recommendation C:

    ''The financial viability of some domestic rail services could be undermined by the strict application of the technical specifications for interoperability leading to traffic being transferred from rail to road. If subsidiarity is to be a reality those Directives are clearly an area in which it should be exercised.''

Despite having signed the regulatory impact assessment in April, the Minister is now saying that it is a by-and-large assessment that we are not meant to take too seriously. We take the RIA at face value, and we prayed against the regulations on that basis. We have heard nothing today—no specific examples of derogations that will be allowed—that undermines the estimate in the RIA that suggests that the measure will cost British industry more than £90 million a year.

Mr. Spellar: First, that estimate is not £90 million a year, but £90 million in aggregate. Secondly, it is hard to get a derogation from a TSI that does not exist.

Mr. Chope: I accept the technical argument that one cannot get a derogation until the TSI has been drawn up, but I am disappointed by that response. We know that the relevant TSIs are currently being drawn up and that British experts are involved in the process and serving on working parties. The Minister is unable to give a single example of where we might get a derogation. If we do not get a derogation, the net cost of £76.3 million will be a burden on British industry, with the prospect of an additional burden of more than £1 billion coming from the conventional interoperability directive.

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Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 3.

Division No. 1]

Brake, Tom Cryer, Mrs. Ann Field, Mr. Frank Foster, Mr. Don Mackinlay, Andrew
Pollard, Mr. Kerry Ryan, Joan Spellar, Mr. John Watts, Mr. Dave

Chope, Mr. Christopher Randall, Mr. John
Simmonds, Mr. Mark

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Question accordingly agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered The Railways (Interoperability) (High-Speed) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2000, No. 1166).

Committee rose at nine minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Brake, Tom
Chope, Mr.
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Field, Mr. Frank
Gapes, Mike
Foster, Mr. Don
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Mackinlay, Andrew
Mallaber, Judy
Pollard, Mr.
Randall, Mr.
Simmonds, Mr.
Spellar, Mr.
Watts, Mr.

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