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Session 2008 - 09
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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Bob Russell
Baker, Norman (Lewes) (LD)
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie (Blyth Valley) (Lab)
Goodwill, Mr. Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay (Chorley) (Lab)
Khan, Mr. Sadiq (Minister of State, Department for Transport)
Leech, Mr. John (Manchester, Withington) (LD)
Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
Soulsby, Sir Peter (Leicester, South) (Lab)
Southworth, Helen (Warrington, South) (Lab)
Spellar, Mr. John (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)
Steen, Mr. Anthony (Totnes) (Con)
Wilson, Mr. Rob (Reading, East) (Con)
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

European Committee A

Monday 20 July 2009

[Bob Russell in the Chair]

Intelligent Transport Systems
[Relevant Documents: European Union Document No. 17563/08 and Addenda 1 and 2: Commission Communication on Action Plan for the deployment of intelligent transport systems in Europe (24th Report of Session 2008-09, HC 19-xxii, Chapter 1).]
4.30 pm
The Chairman: Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement?
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Unfortunately, I have once again been summoned to speak on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee—for some unknown reason, the Whips keep choosing me. As I do not want to be a member of that Committee, I am amazed that I keep being asked. It is outrageous that I am here once again, under protest. I want it noted for the record that it seems absurd that, having joined that Committee for three weeks, I am still there after four years. I am sure that there are other hon. Members who would like to do this.
However, it might help the Committee if I explained briefly the European Scrutiny Committee’s reasons for recommending the document for debate. The document relates to nothing other than intelligent transport systems, the information and communications technologies used to manage traffic and inform travellers. Sometimes, if left on, those systems can be confusing, which is something I find strange about those information centres—they are very good when they are working, but if left on, the next day they can confuse travellers.
There has been a gradual increase in the use of technology in recent years in areas such as road safety, traffic management and tackling climate change—I do not know whether that means that they can tell us whether it will rain in the north or not. There is a draft directive intended to establish a Community framework for the co-ordinated deployment and use of intelligent transport systems for road transport, including interfaces with other modes of transport, and to develop the necessary specifications—as Members can tell, it is rather exciting.
The proposal is one of 24 actions suggested by the Commission to promote the deployment of intelligent transport systems, which are set out in an action plan in its communication “Action plan for the deployment of Intelligent Transport Systems in Europe”. I am not sure whether those will be multi-lingual, and I hope that the Committee might have the answer, because I do not.
The Chairman: I am grateful to you, Mr. Hoyle, for your enthusiasm. I call the Minister to make an opening statement.
4.33 pm
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr. Sadiq Khan): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon in this splendid Committee, Mr. Russell. I welcome the brief explanatory statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley, who succinctly set out some of the issues I hope to deal with. In my opening statement I hope to deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friend, hopefully curtailing the need for some of the questions that might otherwise arise.
The directive, as has been said, establishes a framework to accelerate and co-ordinate the deployment of intelligent transport systems in road transport across the European Union. In setting up the framework, the European Commission hopes to support more efficient, environmentally friendly, safer and more secure freight and passenger transport.
I want to make it clear from the outset that the Government support the principles of the ITS action plan agreed at the Transport Council in March. ITS technologies can play an important role in helping to deliver our transport objectives on road safety, congestion and climate change, and the Government agree that a harmonised approach to implementing ITS applications will achieve a more continuous service to users across Europe.
We have already made considerable progress in the UK. For example, the urban traffic management and control system is now the preferred ITS platform for UK towns and cities, and there are many examples of successful UTMC schemes carried out by a wide range of local authorities. Transport Direct has been another success, providing a one-stop shop website for travel information and journey planning, covering all forms of transport—air, bus, car, coach, ferry, train, light rail, tram, tube, taxi and cycle. At a European level we are making progress through projects such as EasyWay and the European electronic tolling service.
As my hon. Friend alluded to, discussions on the directive during the Czech presidency stalled because of the diverse positions of member states on a wide-range of policies. The Swedish presidency has now indicated that making progress on the directive is one of its priorities and it aims to achieve political agreement on the directive at the October Transport Council. I must confess that we consider that timetable to be ambitious, but share the presidency’s desire to make progress and are keen to work with other member states to agree a way forward.
As I have indicated, the Government’s preferred route would be for no legislation at this stage and we will continue to make that case during forthcoming discussions on the directive. If, however, a consensus emerges among other member states for a legislative approach, we will need to be flexible to ensure that we influence the direction of the directive to serve our transport goals best. Recent discussions and proposed amendments to the directive have already indicated that other member states are prepared to contemplate a directive that might be more acceptable to the UK. If we need to move away from outright opposition to the directive, we will look to ensure that the directive is amended to ensure that the deployment of ITS respects the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality; is supported by a sound business case, which meets defined policy objectives; and takes account of existing ITS applications and structures for delivery, including those driven by the private sector.
There will be a case for work at the European level to develop open standards and specifications, where they are needed, to ensure consistent and continuous service levels across the EU, but deployment decisions should be left to member states. The measures for co-ordination and co-operation need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, depending on the requirements of the particular ITS application, whether at pan-European, national or local level. We are not convinced that the proposed legislative approach is the best way to progress. We will continue to work with other member states to ensure an outcome that best meets our transport needs.
The Chairman: I am grateful to the Minister for his opening statement. We now have until 5.30 for questions to the Minister. May I inform Members that that is not a target to reach but rather a time that we must not exceed? I also remind Members that questions should be brief and it is open to them, subject to my discretion, to ask related supplementary questions.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): It is always a joy to serve under your chairmanship. I thank the hon. Member for Chorley for presenting the report from the Committee with his usual charismatic and common-sense approach, which seems to be catching—the Minister seems to have talked a lot of common sense today. Even if there were a change of Government next year, I suspect that there would not be a change of tack in the approach to the proposal.
The Conservative party and the Conservative and Reformists group in the European Parliament are concerned that the measure, described as aiming to improve efficiency and road safety, and reduce carbon emissions, is being used to introduce measures that fly in the face of the principle of subsidiarity, as the Minister has said, and may even err into areas outside the competence of the European Union. What is the position of the PES group, now known as the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, in the European Parliament? Can the Minister assure me that his recently elected MEPs will follow his line?
Mr. Khan: I telephoned the new chairman of the transport committee 20 minutes ago to congratulate him on his job. He is an English Member of the European Parliament, and I am sure that he will ensure that the concerns that we have articulated, and those that have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley, will be taken on board. I am confident that the committee will listen to the concerns that have been expressed this afternoon.
Mr. Goodwill: I thank the Minister for that answer. I asked that question because, having been an MEP, I know that the UK delegation to the Socialist group has form in that regard. When I was there, I often found myself trying to pass briefings from the UK Government to his colleagues, who seemed more allied to their grouping than to their national party. What discussions has he had with his opposite number in the Swedish presidency, and what allies does he have already in terms of building a qualified majority against this measure?
Mr. Khan: That is an important question. The Swedish presidency is enthusiastic and keen to reach an agreement sooner rather than later. The EU member countries that have similar concerns to us are primarily Germany and the Netherlands, but other countries such as Italy, Portugal and Spain have concerns. We are keen to use Council working group meetings to reach as much consensus as we can. The two words that I used, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman welcomed, were co-operation and co-ordination. We need to make sure that we get like-minded states to articulate the same concerns that we have in order to reach agreement in a co-operative manner without the need for the comitology route that is being proposed by the Swedish presidency.
Mr. Goodwill: One point that might be pushing the Commission’s enthusiasm for all this is the European Union’s Galileo positioning system. The Minister may recall that concerns about the American ability to turn off the global positioning system encouraged the EU to do its own thing and to set up its own parallel system. To what extent does he think that these proposals are aimed at singling out Galileo as a preferred option for any pan-European system? Does that fly in the face of competition between the global positioning systems that are available on the market?
Mr. Khan: I am not sure whether that is the case. Galileo has taught us some of the lessons to be learned from taking a legislative approach. I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman suggests is on the agenda; none of the papers that I have read indicate that is the purpose behind all this. We know from the Galileo experience that taking the legislative approach, as has been suggested by the Swedish presidency, is not sensible if one does a cost-benefit analysis. That is one reason why we have concluded that co-operation and co-ordination are the best route. If we reached consensus with the member states that I have talked to and managed to move others forward and there was still a proposal to take the legislative approach, that flexibility would allow us to achieve the result we want.
Mr. Goodwill: No doubt the Minister is aware of the eCall system, which alerts the emergency services or the motor manufacturer when airbags deploy in a car, or when a car rolls over. A number of manufacturers, including BMW, Volvo, the PSA group and Fiat, are already fitting the system, and it is predicted that 70 per cent. of vehicles will be fitted with the system by 2020 even without this new proposal. Will the Minister reassure me that we will not get hoax calls when airbags deploy when a person hits the end of their garage, or when a minor accident occurs, which will waste the time of our emergency services? Can he assure me that the UK’s mobile network is up to the job? Although we have more than 99 per cent. coverage of the population, many areas, particularly in my constituency, have no mobile signal. That might mean that someone who has an accident in one of those not-spots would get a worse service than they would currently get, because of reliance on the system. Will he confirm that there is a proposal on the table from the UK industry? What is preventing the Government from picking up that proposal and catching up with countries such as Germany, where this system is already operating?
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