Roadmap to a Single European
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Marek Kubala, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): May I make such a statement on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee, Mr Davies? Before doing so, may I say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship?
The EU’s transport policy is currently set in the broad context of the Commission’s 2001 white paper, “European transport policy for 2010: time to decide”. In June 2009, the Commission published a consultation document inviting all interested parties to provide views on the future of transport and policy options. The intention was to stimulate debate and encourage policy options to be identified so as to formulate proposals for the Commission’s next transport policy white paper, intended to set out policy for the next decade. The document for debate is that white paper, in which the Commission sets out wide-ranging proposals for the EU’s transport policy.
The Commission asserts that the primary aims are promoting the competitiveness of transport and ensuring its sustainability; it proposes initiatives that would, if adopted, shape the EU transport sector until 2050; and it recognises the challenge of increasing the role of transport in the EU and global market while ensuring that the sustainable transport system will achieve a minimum 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
You will be interested to learn, Mr Davies, that the white paper has no legislative or executive force, but the Commission proposes 40 initiatives to be followed up by the legislative proposals and policy measures needed to achieve 10 stated goals. Clearly, this ambitious document could have significant implications for the UK. The white paper proposes a number of activities that, when presented in a more fully articulated form, will require individual and possibly critical scrutiny, but meanwhile the European Scrutiny Committee has recommended that the white paper as a whole be debated and has suggested that hon. Members might want to pay particular attention to potential subsidiarity problems; the threat of encroachment on tax sovereignty; and the white paper’s budgetary implications.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mrs Theresa Villiers): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere—I thank him for setting the scene. I am sure that the debate will provide useful input into the Government’s dialogue with the European Commission on the proposals that we are considering today. As my hon. Friend stated, the white paper has no legal force in itself, but it deserves careful scrutiny, because it is likely to lead to legislative proposals and policy measures. We expect the Commission to push for a Council conclusion on the white paper during the next presidency.
Although we have reservations about a number of the initiatives proposed in the white paper, the Government broadly welcome the Commission’s aim to set out a long-term vision for achieving a competitive, resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable transport sector in the EU. Indeed, some of the proposed initiatives align well with our domestic objective to ensure that an improved transport system plays an important role in our efforts to promote jobs and sustainable economic growth. For example, the UK supports the completion of the single European sky project, which has the potential to deliver improvements in operational efficiency for aviation and to help to tackle delays and improve life for passengers. We also welcome initiatives on aviation security in the white paper that are aimed at improving screening for both cargo and passengers.
However, there are some significant concerns. First, my hon. Friend is right to raise subsidiarity and taxation, because the white paper considers a number of issues relating to transport charges and taxes. It is not clear in all cases exactly what the Commission has in mind—the language is fairly general—but we would of course oppose any attempt by the EU to force the UK to adopt a national road-charging scheme or local congestion-charging schemes.
A second concern focuses on the initiatives on employment conditions in the transport sector. We would be very resistant to new EU measures if they undermined the flexibility of labour markets and harm our efforts to tackle unemployment. A third set of initiatives that could cause problems relates to urban policies, which we believe should be subject to local decision making. That brings me to a general point about the white paper. At this stage, it is not possible to take a conclusive view on all the initiatives, because most of them are phrased generally. On a number of issues in the White paper, such as urban transport or transport technology and innovation, the EU might conceivably add value if it plays a light-touch role by, for example, facilitating the sharing of best practice between member states, but we cannot see a case for extending the scope of EU regulation and legislation.
We will therefore continue to resist measures that would introduce new regulation, unless we are satisfied on two important points. First, we need clear evidence that new regulation is justified and that alternative solutions, such as codes of practice, would be insufficient to deal with a recognised problem. Secondly, we would
As the Prime Minister and seven other European leaders said in a letter to the Commission in March, we want to see a reduction in the burden of regulation at both domestic and EU level to help businesses and boost jobs and growth. It is particularly important to minimise regulatory burdens for start-ups and small businesses.
In conclusion, I echo my hon. Friend’s statement that careful scrutiny needs to be applied to ensure that any legislative proposals that come out of the white paper are affordable, given the constrained budgets across Europe and the budgetary restraint the UK Government are calling for in the EU.
The Chair: We now have until 5.30 pm for questions to the Minister. I remind Members that questions should be brief. Subject to my discretion, it is open to a Member to ask related supplementary questions.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for her opening comments. Like her, Opposition Members welcome the publication of the white paper, which is a hugely ambitious document. It maps out in one place a strategy for transport across the whole EU. Like the Minister, however, we also have real concerns, so I have one or two questions about the white paper.
First, like the Minister, the Opposition think the specific goals set out in the white paper throw up serious questions about the direction the Government must take on transport policy. As regards the move from conventionally fuelled cars to alternatives, the Government snuck out their announcement on charging points during last Thursday’s industrial action, which seemed to draw attention away from that announcement. Precisely how does the EU’s transport strategy relate to the Government’s proposals for the move to recharging networks for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles? We are concerned that the commitments that have been given will not be met. What are the implications of the measures in the white paper? It is important that we get a view on that. Will the Minister take this opportunity to make a commitment to extending the scheme beyond the current financial year and restoring the funding that has been cut to show that the Government have not totally abandoned their support for green-vehicle technology? That is important, because there is a multi-year fund, which is worth £230 million.
On the white paper’s commitment to move freight from road to rail and sea, we welcome support for the proposal. However, will the Minister explain how that sits with the Government’s desire to allow even larger HGVs on to Britain’s road network, when her own analysis shows that that will have an impact on reducing the amount of freight on rail? We are concerned about that, and we do not see how the Government’s policies
The Minister rightly referred to the need to reflect on subsidiarity in relation to taking decisions as locally as possible. Larger and longer HGVs are a particular concern, especially for smaller towns and villages in the UK, so how will the Government develop the concept of subsidiarity in relation to that problem?
The white paper backs a Europe-wide high-speed rail network through the tripling of the existing network length by 2030. The Government are proceeding with plans for high-speed rail between London and Birmingham. We would like to see a commitment, at least to Manchester and Leeds, as part of the hybrid Bill. Will the Minister say whether the Government have thought again on that and will they, with our support, legislate for the entire Y-shaped route in the hybrid Bill?
Has the Minister held discussions with the Commission on European Union funding to meet some of the cost of our shift to high speed in light of the commitment in the white paper? It is very important that we know precisely what discussions she and her officials have had with the European Commission, and how she sees the development of high-speed rail in the United Kingdom fitting in with a wider concept of a high-speed network across the whole of the EU, not least because High Speed 1 and High Speed 2 will not necessarily have the connectivity that we hope for.
Will the Minister outline in more detail how High Speed 2 will link with core airports? The white paper makes it very clear that all core airports should be linked to the high-speed rail network, and initially High Speed 2 will not be linked with our major hub airport, Heathrow. There are other airports in the UK that do not even have conventional rail links, let alone high-speed rail links. How will those implications impact on future costs to the UK taxpayer? Linking up all our airports, sea ports and other freight and passenger facilities would involve substantial cost to the taxpayer.
There is a commitment in the white paper to multi-model transport information and payment systems. We have seen some very good work, particularly in London, led mainly by the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, with the development of the Oyster card, other smart card technologies and transport information systems. How will measures in the white paper be rolled out in the UK, particularly in areas where there is a different form of transport planning? Outside London, passenger transport is deregulated, which makes it more difficult for passenger transport authorities and transport companies to achieve the same level of integration as we have in the capital. How will the measures in the white paper be introduced outside London, so that other people can receive the same benefits as passengers in the capital?
On greater road safety, we welcome the commitment in the white paper to move closer to zero road transport fatalities. However, it is difficult to see how the Government’s approach since the election will get us any closer to achieving that aim. How will some of the measures, such as cutting funding for road safety by 40% and removing the ring-fencing of road safety grants, help us
How does the proposal to increase motorway speed limits fit with the white paper’s ambitions to reduce accidents? Has the Department considered the impact that an increased speed limit would have on CO
2limits? How do environmental implications fit with the white paper’s aims? The Minister mentioned the concept of “the user pays.” We share her concerns about some of the measures floated by the white paper. There is perhaps a place for congestion charging. It has certainly worked in the inner London zone, but it is not a one-size-fits-all approach, which is what we are concerned about. We respect the views of the people of Manchester, who resoundingly said that they did not want a congestion charge in their city. Although such measures may be appropriate for some parts of the European Union, we would not want them to be imposed on the United Kingdom. What are the Government doing to ensure that that will not happen and that it will be up to each local area to decide what is best for their towns and cities in relation to the user-pays concept?
Finally, we are concerned about a taxpayer subsidy for the railways. The white paper makes it clear that there should not be a role for mass state involvement in the railways. Yes, there is a need to take the costs out of the industry, but we do not necessarily share the Government’s view of how to achieve that, and we are concerned about the measures that are likely to result from the McNulty review. Having said that, we think that there is a role for taxpayer involvement in our rail industry. Does the Minister agree that there is a role for state subsidy in the UK rail industry, because there is a social need as well as a commercial need in relation to our train services?
Mrs Villiers: I hope you will forgive me, Mr Davies, if I answer at some length; I need to address the long list of issues and questions that have been raised. I trust that the shadow Minister will come back to me if I miss out any of his multiple concerns.
First, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the sheer volume of initiatives in this white paper. That gives me cause for concern, because if all 40 initiatives resulted in legislation, we would have practical problems in getting it through. The over-ambitiousness would be a concern.
As the scrutiny of the white paper continues, the Government and other member states will make the point that when it comes to legislation we should really focus our efforts on the more important elements. Perhaps we could address some of the other areas on that long list of initiatives by way of shared best practice and methodology, which are less heavy-handed than regulation and EU legislation.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about conventionally fuelled cars as opposed to electric cars and ultra-low-carbon cars. My anxiety about the EU’s proposals in the white paper is that the targets are fairly arbitrary and are not
None the less, we do not believe that the proposed targets are realistic. That said, we are determined to press ahead with our major programme to support ultra-low-carbon vehicles, with significant grants for consumers to choose such cars and a significant roll-out of charging infrastructure. The action that we are taking at a domestic level is entirely consistent and would not be undermined by any of the proposals in the white paper.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman referred to the Commission’s proposals on modal shift, in particular from road to rail and sea. He was concerned about the proposals that are under consideration to allow on our roads HGVs that are just slightly longer than the current limits. We have, of course, rejected the super-lorries that were under consideration by the previous Government, but we are considering a modest extension—of a metre or so—of current HGVs.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be very concerned that the current Government are considering such an extension, but my understanding is that that was also the position of the previous Government and there has not been any change of policy between the two Governments—both of us ruled out super-lorries and both of us were prepared to consider a modest extension in HGV lengths of around a metre or so; forgive me if I do not have exactly the right figure, but it is a relatively small extension of what is currently permitted on UK roads. I do not believe that that change will have a significant negative impact on rail freight, although we turned down the super-lorry proposals because we had a concern about its impact on rail freight.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the interaction of road and modal shift. One of the advantages of shifting freight from road to rail is that it has a positive road safety benefit. I also accept that it has a positive carbon-emissions and air-quality benefit, which is why the Government are continuing to invest in the infrastructure improvements needed to create the strategic freight network, which is an excellent programme that will improve the competitiveness of rail freight. That network was not the only improvement that survived the comprehensive spending review. A series of mode shift grants to support the shift from road to rail also survived the CSR when people expected that they would not. We are very serious in our support for rail freight.
On local decision making on the use of roads by trucks and HGVs, I am not sure that proposals are on the table at the moment relating specifically to that, but the new powers and freedoms that the Localism Bill gives to local authorities might give them greater scope to examine how traffic is managed in their areas. I will certainly convey that point back to my colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government.
The shadow Minister asked about the high-speed rail network. As I have said many times, the Government are committed to taking high-speed rail to Manchester and Leeds. The Conservatives made that commitment in opposition, before Labour converted to high-speed
On funding issues, it was asked whether we can get European funding to support high-speed rail. The approach is twin-track. The issue has been raised directly between officials at the Department for Transport and those at the Commission to see whether there is scope for support for high-speed rail from the funding for trans-European networks. Also, in the ongoing debate about reform of TEN funding, we seek to align the Commission’s proposals for a core and comprehensive network with our key transport corridors. If we are successful, we hope that one favourable result will be that it will be easier to get funding for transport improvements to some of our most important transport corridors, which are London to Birmingham, Birmingham to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds.
I agree with the shadow Minister that it is important to seek international connectivity with high-speed rail. That is why the Government are committed to connecting HS2, when it is built, with HS1—something that the Labour Government did not promise. He also mentioned the Commission’s proposals to ensure that airports and ports are properly connected to the rail network. We see significant benefits in doing so, but it must be said that the Commission’s goal and aspiration would, obviously, cost money. We must be sensible. It is all very well for the Commission to call for the infrastructure to be built, but we must ensure that we use our limited domestic and EU resources in the most efficient way.
However, we do see the importance of the issue, which is why we are committed to schemes such as Crossrail and Thameslink, which will significantly improve connections to Heathrow and Gatwick respectively. It is also why, subject to consultation, we propose an interchange between HS2 and Crossrail at Old Oak Common in the first phase. We expect the second phase—again, subject to consultation—to include a direct connection to Heathrow. Phase 1 of our preferred route would also give an attractive connection to Birmingham international rail station and Birmingham airport. We have taken on board the importance of effective surface transport connections to our major airports.
I return to the strategic freight network. On our ports, I should say that we have continued the previous Government’s good programme to enhance rail freight connections. I am sure that the hon. Member for Luton North will pick me up on this as well, but a lot of positive work is being done on the strategic freight network, much of it focused on ports such as Felixstowe and Southampton. We hope to continue with that.
On the Commission’s proposal on multi-modal transport information, payment systems and travel information, which the shadow Minister mentioned, I should say that we simply do not know at this stage whether the Commission will come up with something that is useful
The shadow Minister wanted to hear how our smarter ticketing and technology proposals at home interact with what the Commission is doing. Again, that is not entirely clear, but we will ensure that anything that comes out of the white paper process is consistent with the hard work that is going on in rolling out the Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation to give more people access to the sort of smarter ticketing that the shadow Minister rightly highlighted was very successful in London.
By the end of this Parliament, we want far more people to be able to have access to public transport journeys for which they can use a smarter type of ticketing. There has been good progress around the country. Oyster has been extended to the mainline rail network in Greater London and there have been interesting developments both in Manchester and in the west midlands, where work is taking place on how we might make progress on the matter.
On the questions asked about road safety, I assure the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, as I have many times, that the Government are absolutely committed to making our roads safer. It is simply not true to say that we are slashing road safety funding. He is very concerned about de-ring-fencing road safety funding. We think that local authorities are grown up enough to make their own decisions on how to allocate the vast majority of Government funds. I am absolutely confident that local authorities the length and breadth of this land will place a high priority on road safety funding. His anxiety about the consequence of de-ring-fencing road safety funding will prove unfounded.
On the Commission’s proposals, again, I am not convinced that setting an EU-wide target is the most useful way to proceed. I am worried about how countries such as the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden, which are much further ahead than other countries, would be treated by such a one-size-fits-all target; we will be scrutinising carefully what the Commission has in mind. The shadow Minister then asked about motorway speed limits. I can assure him that if there were to be such a change, it would be subject to a rigorous analysis based on the road safety and emissions evidence, to which he rightly referred.
The shadow Minister helpfully said that he shared a number of my concerns about the taxation and transport charging mechanisms that are hinted at in the white paper. I have already stated clearly that we would reject an attempt by the EU to impose a national road pricing scheme. I also agree that it would not be acceptable for the EU to force congestion-charging schemes on our towns and cities, whether in Manchester, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, or other cities.
Lastly, the hon. Gentleman talked about taxpayer subsidy for the railways. I assure him that the Government, too, believe that ongoing taxpayer subsidy of the railways is vital. Although I hope that we will all strive to get the costs of running the railways down, a significant section
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I should like to ask five questions. First, do the Government believe that the target of reducing EU transport greenhouse gases by at least 60% by 2050 is realistic, and do they believe that that target should be just indicative? Secondly, if despite the UK’s efforts the EU adopts a directive imposing road charges, will the Minister make it clear that the Government would challenge that directive before the European Court of Justice as a violation of the principle of subsidiarity? Thirdly, are the Government prepared to veto any EU proposal that would restrict the UK’s ability to formulate its own tax policy? Fourthly, what could be the effect of new EU guidelines on strategic European transport infrastructure when it comes to UK decisions on transport infrastructure investment? Finally, do the Government believe that it is appropriate for the EU to have a target of completing a European high-speed rail network by 2050? How will the EU go about that, and is the present High Speed 2 proposal part of that plan?
Mrs Villiers: In reply to my hon. Friend’s first question, I have reservations about whether a sector-specific target for transport would be effective, the right way to go, and the most cost-efficient way of dealing with emissions. The deadline and the number chosen are not yet supported by evidence, so I remain to be convinced that what the Commission is proposing is the right way forward, although we wholeheartedly share the Commission’s objective of decarbonising transport.
In terms of a directive to mandate a road pricing scheme and whether we would challenge it in the European Court of Justice, we would do our best to stop it being introduced in the first place. I would be unwise to commit a future UK Government to the tactics that they might take in such a scenario, but clearly we would take all appropriate steps to try to protect our tax sovereignty.
On my hon. Friend’s third question about whether we would be prepared to veto anything that had an impact on taxation, we would have to look at each case on its merits. The reality is that the EU already has competence in some tax areas, so I would be unwise to say that we would veto all measures relating to tax and the European Union. For example, VAT has been subject to decision-making at EU level for the past 50 years, but we will resist areas where we believe that the EU is seeking to expand its competence into new areas of tax if we believe that they are matters for member states. As the Prime Minister has clearly stated, we will absolutely not accept any attempt by the European Union to create new taxes to give an own-resources income stream direct to the Commission, which it has often sought to do in discussions on the EU budget and the financial perspective.
I suspected that my hon. Friend would ask about high-speed rail. Our plans stand on their merit of bringing significant benefits to the UK economy and our connectivity, so although they could conceivably be in line with a Commission goal to complete a high-speed rail network for the European Union, they are in no way dependent on that goal. Although I see great merit in pressing forward with high speed rail projects throughout the European Union, the question that the Commission does not answer in its transport white paper is how such a network would be funded. We believe that we have a viable, and value-for-money way of funding high-speed rail in this country, but the Commission has not answered the question in relation to a bigger high-speed rail network. The Commission’s ambitions for a Europe-wide high-speed rail network will need to be constrained by what is affordable, whether at EU level or national level.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I have some sympathy with the tenor of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Wycombe, but perhaps I could generalise them. Is it not that case that, by and large, transport policy is and should be a matter for member states, and only with international transport, for example, is it appropriate to have international remits, but that could easily be done through bilateral or multilateral arrangements rather than going through the EU?
Mrs Villiers: With transport policy, the default setting should be to deal with things at the lowest possible level, either locally or nationally. Only if there is good reason to believe that EU involvement would add value or be the best way to resolve a problem should action be taken at the EU level. There are some projects where EU involvement is useful. For instance, it would have been difficult to deliver the revolution in no-frills budget airlines without the liberalisation process that took place via the European Union in the 1980s. Similarly, a more efficient air traffic control system for Europe is something where the EU could provide real impetus; it would probably be quite difficult to deliver it without these EU structures.
Kelvin Hopkins: The Minister concedes the point that it is only in certain areas where international arrangements are appropriate. For most aspects of transport policy, it is and should be a matter for member state Governments. We should choose our policy according to our needs, and other countries should choose their policies according to their needs.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): The Liberal Democrats support the white paper, although as with all transport projects implementation depends massively on detail. Improving transport infrastructure and moving to a low-carbon transport sector are key UK policy objectives. It is good to see the European Union working on that.
I have a few questions. I am excited about the idea of a fully integrated EU-wide high-speed rail system. I hope that the Minister will tell us a little more. Will she actively support it in order to bring added value to High
My last question is about funding for future transport projects. I understand that the multi-annual financial framework discussions are considering reprioritising spending towards transport infrastructure as well as energy, climate change and so forth. There will be new financing instruments, such as the European project bond, to get private investment as well. Will the Minister support that, so that we have more investment in transport projects?
Mrs Villiers: My hon. Friend asks what more can be done to get the most from high-speed rail through better integration across Europe. As with so many things, it is not terribly clear how the Commission proposes to do this, so we therefore slightly reserve judgment. As for what we are doing in the UK, I have already mentioned the goal of connecting HS1 with HS2. We also support an initiative being developed by the private sector to bring Deutsche Bahn trains on to HS1, which will give people in the UK direct connections to places such as Frankfurt and Cologne. There are still some administrative difficulties, but it has great potential to enhance the usefulness and value that we get from HS1.
Much of this will be driven by the private sector. Groups are already working with operators of high-speed rail systems across Europe to integrate ticketing, and to encourage people to not say about high-speed rail, “Oh well, I’ll go to either Euro Disney or Brussels or Paris.” It is already possible to connect to destinations much further afield, and the industry has been working for some time on that kind of through ticketing. That is an illustration of how the private sector will deliver many benefits, so I hope that whatever the Commission comes up with will not get in the way of that.
My hon. Friend mentioned Alconbury. I am not quite sure what project he is referring to, although I am a great supporter of the enhancements to the freight routes between Felixtowe and Nuneaton. Those are making good progress and of course received funding in the spending settlement. I do not know whether my hon. Friend was referring to that, or to something that has not yet been given committed funding. Perhaps we can discuss that at a later stage.
As to investment decisions—this brings me back to a point that I think another hon. Member made, which I forgot to answer—I do not see anything in the transport white paper that would or should jeopardise our ability to take decisions on which transport investments we prioritise. It would be inappropriate if the Commission were to begin to second-guess the next spending review, and to decide which transport projects merited support from the UK taxpayer, and which did not. I have not read that in the white paper, but will check whether that is indeed a risk.
My hon. Friend mentioned a further instance of decarbonisation, which I confess I did not quite get; but if he wants to ask a supplementary question, and you will permit that, Mr Davies, I should be happy to answer. As to European project bonds, I confess that I am not certain exactly how they would operate in practice, but I am happy to consider them, to see whether they might be a productive way to encourage important investment in our transport infrastructure.
Dr Huppert: I suspect the question on which I was not clear enough was about the review of car emission limits, which is due in 2013. Will the Minister say a bit more about the UK’s attitude towards being robust and ambitious on those?
Mrs Villiers: I am grateful for that clarification. My hon. Friend will appreciate that as Transport Minister I am not the person who makes decisions on local enterprise zones, but I am happy to convey to colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who would, I believe, have responsibility for that, his support for an enterprise zone
We took a pretty robust approach to the intense debate at European level on car emission limits. We thought, overall, that the end result was a pretty fair balance between protecting the competitiveness of EU-wide car manufacturing and giving a real push towards cleaner cars. We intend that push to continue, through the work that we are doing at home with support for ultra-low-carbon vehicles.
The grants for those were one of the first things that the Government confirmed and my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed, at an early stage—even before the comprehensive spending review—that we would go ahead with those grants, with the joint purpose of giving a push to our ambition to decarbonise the car fleet, and a major boost to manufacturing. We have the potential to become a centre of excellence and a power in the global market for electric cars, as shown by some of the great work being done by manufacturers in the north-east. There is thus a double benefit to be had for that support for low-carbon-emission vehicles.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My question is about that last point. In his opening questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish raised with the Minister the relationship between the white paper and the Department for Transport announcement last week, particularly in relation to low-carbon vehicles and plug-in cars. I am struck by the fact that the editor of Parkers.co.uk, the car market experts, said:
“Clearly the Government is strapped for cash. But can we rely on the private sector to provide sufficient charging points? I fear not. And lack of charging points is one of the biggest deterrents
That shows that there is a lot of concern that the Government are not pursuing infrastructure for charging in the way that they should. The matter is obviously relevant to the white paper, so would the Minister care to comment on it? The Minister referred to the maintenance of grants for low-carbon vehicles, but I am still a bit hazy about what is being maintained and what is going. What precisely does she see as the future of the subsidy to the consumer who purchases an electric vehicle?
Mrs Villiers: I do not think that I can greatly add to my previous answer. We have an ambitious programme to support the roll-out of charging infrastructure, and we seek to target limited resources as efficiently as possible. The programme is extensive and, in addition to other programmes being rolled out by local authorities and organisations such as the Mayor of London’s office, it will make a significant difference to the uptake of electric cars. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, we are pressing ahead with generous grants for consumers who buy vehicles with the lowest emissions. We have made a clear commitment to that, and I need not detain the Committee any further on the issue, because I have already talked about it at some length.
Kelvin Hopkins: The right hon. Lady has again answered my original question about trains crossing borders. It is about a negotiation between the railway operators in each of those countries, and possibly the member state Governments; the European Union’s role would be minimal to non-existent. This substantial white paper seems likely to lead to more EU spending at a time when the budget is already going up, when there are serious concerns about the considerable increases being put through against resistance by the Government, and on the day when it has even been suggested that there will be a one-off buy-out of Britain’s rebate by President Barroso. Is the Minister not concerned, therefore, about the third point in the European Scrutiny Committee’s conclusion, that there are budgetary implications that might result in yet more spending and more payments by member states, which would not be ideal? Does she not agree that transport could be much better advanced through bilateral and multilateral arrangements than through the EU?
Mrs Villiers: As ever on such matters, the hon. Gentleman talks a lot of good sense. I welcome the opportunity to say that I share his concerns about the affordability of many of the aspirations set out in the long list of goals and initiatives. Such things as infrastructure to connect ports and airports, a high-speed rail network across Europe, and new intelligent transport systems and technology could of course generate benefits, but I agree that the EU should not embark on projects unless it is convinced that they are affordable, within the current budgetary constraints. We certainly will press hard for budgetary restraint in the upcoming negotiations on the next financial perspective.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 8333/11 and Addenda 1-3, a White Paper: Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area–Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system; and supports the Government’s aim to ensure that the European Commission’s proposals are practical and proportionate and avoid excessive regulatory burdens on business, while respecting the principles of subsidiarity—( Mrs Villiers.)
Andrew Gwynne: Members on the Opposition Benches broadly welcome the publication of the white paper on transport. The document is hugely ambitious, mapping out in one place, as it does, a strategy for transport across the European Union. A lot of what is in it can be of considerable use and benefit as we advance our own precise policy solutions to the shared challenges we face, many of which, such as climate change, do not respect national borders. However, there is a debate to be had about whether everything that is proposed should be achieved at a European Union level. Opposition Members do not necessarily share the Commission’s view on that, and we share the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North.
However, there is clearly much in the document to welcome and with which we should engage positively. Putting debates about subsidiarity aside, those elements of the document should be considered on their merits without making this Committee a proxy for a wider debate about the role of the European Union.
As the Minister said in her opening comments, the white paper does not contain legislative proposals and any future proposals will be subject to individual scrutiny. I therefore propose to talk about some of the goals and policy objectives in the paper and I will leave the debate about subsidiarity for a future occasion.
Transport policy is crucial to our economic competitiveness and our ability to meet the challenge of climate change. Decarbonisation of the transport sector is rightly a major priority and it is a goal that all of us in this Parliament probably share. The challenge for individual Governments and for the European Union is how to achieve that goal without harming competitiveness or placing even greater burdens on the public in terms of the cost of travelling, particularly in the current economic climate.
The goals and challenges set out in the white paper are a very welcome attempt to identify the priorities for transport policy in the years ahead and we broadly agree that they are correct, with one major exception. It is a real concern to us that affordability to the public is the missing element in this strategy. In fact, many of the proposals run the considerable risk of adding to the unaffordability of much of the transport system—already an issue for many people.
Our own review has placed affordability back at the heart of our transport policy. We invested a considerable amount in improving our transport system, but in government I do not believe that we always retained a focus on the cost to commuters and families of getting about in their day-to-day lives. That was a mistake. At a time when households are really feeling the squeeze on their family budgets, now is the time to place the cost of living crisis at the front and centre of our policy making. The failure of the white paper’s overarching goals to do that risks making the same mistake that the Government are making in their own transport policies and which, to an extent, we made in our own time in office.
We welcome the goals that are set out in the document, but we believe that they throw up some serious questions for the Government about the direction of their own transport policy since the election. With regard to the move from conventionally fuelled cars to alternatives, we agree that we need to go considerably further in making the shift from cars that use conventional fuel to others forms of car, such as electric and hybrid vehicles. We can debate precisely what the target should be and whether we can realistically achieve a phasing-out of carbon emissions from vehicles by 2030, but whatever precise target is set, the reality is that we will get nowhere near the required reductions in carbon dioxide without making a serious commitment to the affordability of electric and hybrid cars, and without meeting the public’s concern about the availability of energy supplies. The Government should listen to Edmund King, the president of the AA, who has said:
“To even partially fulfil that aspiration, a comprehensive EV charging network will be needed in every city. There is, of course, a role for the private sector, but the government needs to take a stronger lead in terms of infrastructure if electric vehicles are to take off.”
On the price of vehicles, I fear that the Government have also taken a backward step. In government, we were committed to providing long-term support to reduce the price of electric vehicles, through a multi-year fund worth £230 million. That has now been cut to a single-year fund of £43 million.
Steve Baker: I just want to make sure that I correctly understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He seems to be suggesting that we should tax everybody to give their money back to them through the medium of discounts on electric vehicles. Have I understood correctly?
Andrew Gwynne: To pursue our overall goals and ambitions, we need to pump-prime that particular sector of car manufacturing and that part of the market because it will not be done by the private sector alone. The AA has referred to that.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that China is already well ahead internationally in terms of investment in electric car technology, and that the UK has to invest? There is a role for Government investment to ensure that we at least catch up, if not get ahead in the field.
Andrew Gwynne: I agree; the Government have to take a lead in that area. If we fail to do so, we will not only miss our targets, aims and ambitions, but we will fall behind with developing new technologies. Britain currently plays a leading role in that kind of research and development.
We welcome the white paper’s support to the commitment to move freight from road to rail and sea, although it seems to sit at odds with the Government’s desire to allow larger and longer HGVs on Britain’s roads—I referred to that during the question and answer session. The Department for Transport’s analysis is that such a move will have an impact and reduce the amount of freight on the railways. In her response, the Minister
Rail freight produces 70% less CO
2per kilometre than road freight and HGVs are three times more likely than other vehicles to be involved in an accident. The proposal has caused considerable concern, particularly in smaller towns and villages and I hope the Minister will reflect on that. The consultation on that policy has now closed, and perhaps it is time to abandon those plans.
Another issue is the European-wide high-speed rail network and a tripling of the existing network length by 2030. I confirm to the Minister that the Labour party is committed to a high-speed rail network; in government we built Britain’s first high-speed line between London and the channel tunnel, which was the first major new railway to be constructed for over 100 years. We believe that we need an integrated high-speed network, achieved through a combination of electrification, more advanced trains and new lines where necessary. A consultation on the proposed new line from London to Birmingham is ongoing, and I am sure that the Minister welcomed the Mayor of London’s helpful submission to that consultation in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday. As the Minister knows, we have raised concerns that the proposed legislation does not intend to take powers for a new high-speed line further north than Birmingham. That has been confirmed and reiterated by the Minister today and has led to suspicions that the Government’s commitments do not intend to deal with the north-south divide at all.
Steve Baker: I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that having stood in the Transport Commissioner’s office and looked at the map, the lines extend into the Y shape running north of Birmingham. We can reasonably expect the commission to drive the Government in that direction.
Andrew Gwynne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming what we all know—with the Y shape it is not difficult to second-guess the alignment of the tracks between Birmingham and Manchester and Birmingham and Leeds, not least because high-speed rail tends to have straight lines. Our concern is that by not legislating in the hybrid Bill to seek powers to build that line from Birmingham to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds, we could end up with a disastrous asset-stripping exercise with land grabs along the route. When we eventually seek powers to build the line beyond Birmingham, it could end up costing the taxpayer even more than it otherwise would have done. We have made it clear that we will support the Government in seeking powers to extend high-speed rail to Manchester and Leeds if they do that through the hybrid Bill. We hope that the Government move on that point because it is important to end that uncertainty and at least to get the powers in place. One of the achievements of the Manchester Metrolink extensions was that a good 15 years ago—it
The white paper is clear that all core airports should be linked to the high-speed network, yet the Government have consulted on a proposed route for the new high-speed line that does not link to Heathrow. Only in the second phase of construction beyond Birmingham, for which the Minister will not take powers in legislation, do the Government propose to spend additional sums building a separate line to link Heathrow to the new line, which therefore falls short of the aspiration in the white paper. The white paper also supports the move to a greater use of multi-modal transport information and payment systems. It wishes to see that in operation across national borders, yet we cannot even manage that within our own local communities.
Although in government Labour devolved powers to London to enable the Mayor to make a great shift to integrate pricing and ticketing through the Oyster scheme, as well as via online information, I regret that we did not go further to ensure that all parts of the country could enjoy the benefits of being able to switch easily between transport modes. Our review is not yet complete, but I am already clear that joining up rail, bus and other local transport services in a way that enables easier methods of payment and choice of routes will be a clear conclusion. I hope that the Government will also commit to taking the next steps down this road, particularly in relation to the proposals in the white paper.
The Minister and I share concerns about the full application of the “user pays principle”. The white paper supports the commitment to its full application, but as I said at the start of my contribution and in the question session, the consideration of the cost of travelling is the missing part of the jigsaw in this white paper. This headline proposal is the starkest example of the apparent lack of concern for transport costs. Since the election, the Government have already demonstrated that they support the “user pays principle”, whether in higher education or on our railways. It is clear that Ministers see no wider benefit to society in securing the skills needed to become a teacher, a doctor or a scientist, or the value to the community of having a transport network that is affordable to more than just the few.
The Opposition disagree. While we have agreed that there has to be scope to bring down the costs of running the rail network, a shift to a “user pays principle” would be unfair and cost more to the nation in the long term, thanks to the effect on people’s ability to afford to travel and to take up education and employment opportunities. As we know, the Government are already beginning the shift towards “user pays” with the decision to increase rail fares by 3 per cent. above the retail prices index of inflation in each of the next three years. That is a decision taken to plug the hole in the transport budget caused by cutting too far and too fast. The consequence will be season tickets racing towards the £10,000 a year mark on some routes into London and many commuters
We have to find a way to bring down the cost to passengers, not to shift more of the burden on to them as the Government are doing. The white paper seems to propose going further down the road towards that. Instead we need to find a way of taking the costs out of the industry. In addition to hiking fares, the Government have proposed cutting the front-line staff whom passengers value and increasing the complexity within the structures of the railway by breaking up our rail infrastructure and once again handing chunks over to the private sector.
The lessons of privatisation surely relate to the fragmented nature of the industry. Anywhere else on the continent, costs are lower for passengers and taxpayers alike. Instead of creating more complexity, should not we be looking at whether the way in which we operate the franchising system is the right model for Britain in the 21st century?
Although we welcome much in the white paper and believe that it is a good basis for the development of our nation’s transport policy in the years ahead, we have reservations about the cost to the public. We also believe that the white paper poses significant challenges to the Government in several areas, not least the move to electric and hybrid vehicles, the development of high-speed rail, the future of freight, and road safety. In each of those areas, it is clear that the Government’s decisions risk hindering, not helping, meeting the goals set out in the white paper.
Steve Baker: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, as we explore this wonderful white paper, which is a veritable treasure trove for those of us who are sceptical about the European Union.
which seems perfectly obvious. However, a footnote states that that comes from the Commission communication “Innovation Union”, so I was particularly delighted to discover that paragraph 3 of the white paper contains this innovative phrase:
Never have I seen a finer use of cliché in a Government document. I want to touch on some points of sovereignty before addressing high-speed rail and what we can infer about transport from the document.
This incredible, ambitious white paper is a planner’s dream because it contains the contradiction that we see so often between a commitment to markets as the way to produce prosperity and allocate resources, and a commitment to achieving specific outcomes. For example, it sets out the intention of halving the use of conventionally-fuelled cars for urban transport by 2030 to achieve carbon dioxide-free city logistics in major urban centres. We could also go on about the intentions on low-carbon sustainable fuels for aviation, shifting 30% of road freight over 300 km and so on. These technocratic targets—these decisions on specific outcomes—are incompatible with market mechanisms when people
If you will allow me a momentary diversion, Mr Davies, I notice that the Cabinet Office now offers “Mindspace”, which is a document that explains how policy makers can use the latest behavioural psychology to steer the public into the right choices. I thought that we had always fought to avoid such a system, but perhaps that is for another day.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I am trying to follow what my hon. Friend is saying. Does he accept that there are externalities that the markets are not very good at addressing, and that Governments have a role in correcting some of those, such as with carbon emissions?
Steve Baker: One of the joys of this policy is that when the white paper discusses such externalities, the general thrust of the argument is that pricing is required. The reality is that economic laws are not optional. When a scarce resource, or any externality, is priced incorrectly, distortions emerge. It does not matter whether this is about the suppression of the price of bread and shoes in the Soviet Union or the UK systematically avoiding road pricing. Queues occur when scarce resources are underpriced.
We can talk about pricing carbon dioxide into fuel, but fuel is already grotesquely priced. No doubt we have all read many letters from the supporters of FairFuelUK. We know that demand for transport is inelastic in relation to fuel prices, so we face a particular challenge on carbon dioxide. I take my hon. Friend’s liberal point that markets require functioning prices if they are to work properly, which was what I inferred from his remarks about externalities. If such things are priced in, the market will deal with them, but if they are not priced in, it will not.
There is talk of forcing a higher share of travel by collective transport, the use of smaller, lighter, and more specialised road passenger vehicles, road pricing and the removal of distortions in taxation, as well as the more efficient organisation of the interface between long-distance and last-mile freight transport. I will stop there, but I simply make the point that this enormous document is a planner’s dream. It is not a policy for a free-market transport system. It is a policy for a third-way system in which some principles of markets are embraced, but only inasmuch as they produce specific outcomes.
Setting those issues aside, I want to make two points about sovereignty. First, on the technical side, there are questions about pricing, taxation and how the Government will work within the framework of the EU, which I touched on in my questions. Secondly, there is an issue of principle. I do not think that anyone reading the document earnestly, and with an open mind, could infer anything other than the fact that it sets out a transport plan for a single nation state—by “nation state”, I mean an organisation with a territorial monopoly on the use of coercion. Getting some of these things through will require legislation—that is the intention—and I do not doubt that the EU will legislate and legislate, and expand and expand, until it gets its way. I sincerely believe that
High-speed rail does not affect my constituency, but I have tried to approach it with an open mind, as I am well aware that my Buckinghamshire colleagues are opposed, at least to the route. Some people in Buckinghamshire have told me that they feel that the consultation is a sham, and it is very hard to answer them because, again and again, the Government commit to the principle, the route and so on. It seems that this is entirely consistent with the thrust of EU policy, but it is difficult to deflect criticism when my constituents and those in neighbouring areas accuse the Government of running a sham consultation. There is every indication that the Government are determined to go ahead, irrespective of the consultation’s result, and the document we are considering shows that it is European policy to push such things through. I would love to have an answer for my constituents, however.
I would like to finish on a lighter point. I remember very well a novel that showed how society fell apart through political intervention in business. That story was told through the medium of intervention in railways. I suggest that Atlas is shrugging today, and if we go any further with this, Atlas will certainly shrug some more.
I am sceptical about the EU’s role in transport policy. In my questions, I said that I thought it was more appropriate for the Governments of democratic member states to decide what was appropriate for their internal transport policies. If there is a need to co-operate internationally, that is more efficiently done through bilateral or multilateral arrangements, particularly between railway operators, for example, and member states’ Transport Departments. An overarching role for the EU in transport policy will not be useful and it would certainly not be cheap, if it continues.
I say that because I have experience of views from Europe. I had the pleasure of travelling to Berlin with the Rail Freight Group to visit Deutsche Bahn—German railways. When we met the chairman, who at that time was Dr Mehdorn, he was extremely energised: he banged the table and said that he would refuse the privatisation of DB on the British model. He claimed that the EU was going to force the British model of privatisation on DB, which is a very successful railway in the state sector, but he insisted that, even if it were privatised, it would not be on the British model, which he vehemently opposed, although that was the model proposed by the EU. In the end, it backed off. DB was not privatised, and it continues to be very successful. It is actually buying up bits of Britain’s railways, such as EWS. When I met EWS executives three or fours years, I said, “I see you have been nationalised.” They said, “No, we haven’t,” and I said, “Yes, you have. You’ve been bought by German state railways, owned by the German Government. You are owned not by the British Government, but by the German Government.”
This is not the only formerly nationalised sector with sections that are owned by foreign Governments. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that they could use the profits from the British components of their conglomerate to subsidise their own countries. If we owned a profitable bit of German railways and it was a question of putting up fares here or there, I would put up the fares there and keep them down here—why not? There is everything to be said for having national democratic control over one’s transport infrastructure.
I was disappointed that my Government did not re-nationalise the railways. They kept going on about a botched privatisation without ever specifying what an un-botched version would have been. That was a way of avoiding talking about taking the railways back into public ownership.
The McNulty report showed that Britain’s railways are up to 40% more expensive to operate than continental railways. The difference is that theirs are publicly owned and integrated; ours are privately owned and fragmented. When I said that to the Secretary of State, he did not say he was sorry that the hon. Member for Luton was wrong. He said that he would expect that comment from me. I wait to hear the demolition of my view that it is something to do with the fact that railways are publicly owned and integrated over there, and privately owned and fragmented over here.
The conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, refer to subsidiarity problems. I have said that essentially member state Governments should decide, certainly for internal transport, what their transport policy should be. We must also consider the encroachment of tax sovereignty, with talk of not having taxpayer subsidy of the railways. If that subsidy is taken away, our railways would collapse. We already have the highest fares in Europe, but the tax subsidy would be a lot less if the railway had not been privatised and fragmented. There are budgetary implications in the White Paper. Clearly, if the EU gets involved, on past standards a lot more EU money will be spent and there will be many more demands on national Governments to contribute to funding the budget.
I want to move on to rail freight, which the Minister will know is a particular concern of mine. There has been a lot of worthy talk about rail freight in Britain. Again, I told my colleagues in government before the last election that the Government’s attitude to rail freight was pathetic. For the control period, they suggested spending £200 million on the rail freight network. Because most people are not terribly numerate, £200 million sounds like a lot of money, but it is actually a tiny amount in these terms. I pointed out to the Minister then responsible for the railways that that was one ninetieth of the proposed spend on Crossrail. I support Crossrail, but to spend 90 times as much money on Crossrail as we are going to spend over several years on the whole rail freight network suggests that rail freight is not being taken seriously, and that we have to put a lot more effort and resource into rail freight if we are to make it successful.
Successful rail freight investments on the continent have not come from the EU; they have come from member state Governments. There has been a little bit of money from trans-European networks—5%, 2%,
Kelvin Hopkins: I accept that, but taxpayers’ money is spent for beneficial purposes that benefit taxpayers. We sometimes do things directly through the market, and we pay privately for what we use. At other times, the Government spend on our behalf to produce, shall we say, the national health service. If we want a serious railway industry, we must look again at greater state involvement. I do not believe that privatisation of any kind, and certainly of railway networks, will be helpful. The state must play a bigger role in running our railways in a more integrated way. I shall carry on saying such things, and I will hopefully at least convince my own party over time.
I cannot see that the European Union’s role is going to be beneficial. I believe that the beneficial changes will take place between member state Governments on a bilateral or multilateral basis or, particularly on railways, between transport operators, and that individual member states are best placed to make the best judgment for their own transport policies. I have probably spoken for too long already. I know that my colleagues want me to finish fairly soon, so I shall stop here. I am sceptical of the EU’s role, and I hope that the Government will start to take rail freight transport more seriously.
Mrs Villiers: I do not propose to detain the Committee for long in summing up. You were very patient, Mr Davies, in allowing me to respond at some length during questions, so I have already covered several issues that were raised then and during the debate.
Turning first to the remarks by the shadow Minister, I should say that I welcome the apparent commitment to high-speed rail. I am pleased that the Opposition, having looked as though they were threatening to perform a U-turn, have decided not to. I am concerned, however, about their approach on longer vehicles; this seems to be another instance where the shadow Secretary of State has amnesia about the approach taken by the Government of whom she was a member. I can only reiterate my commitment that we will take high-speed rail to the north of England.
The shadow Minister also repeated his concerns about linkage with airports. I remind him that the previous Government’s proposals did not include any direct link to Heathrow—neither did they take into account the importance of linking HS1 to HS2. In terms of international connectivity, therefore, the current Government are doing a better job. He raised scare stories about ransom strips being purchased in the event of our not covering the entire route in a single hybrid Bill. That just demonstrates that he has not understood how hybrid Bills work. He also mentioned the GMPTA. I am great supporter of Metrolink; I remind him that, when steps were being taken to create the Manchester Metrolink, a Conservative Government were in office. We started Metrolink and delivered it for Manchester.
Andrew Gwynne: The Minister will remember that a Labour-controlled transport authority was involved. There were, however, attempts to buy ransom strips of land along its route when Metrolink was attempting to get the parliamentary powers in place. That pushed up the costs and created delays. We do not want to see that with High Speed 2. That is the point I am making.
Mrs Villiers: I assure the shadow Minister that we have gone exhaustively over the question of the best practical way to deliver the project. After careful consideration, we concluded that taking a hybrid Bill through Parliament for the London to Birmingham route would be the better way to proceed, but that in no way undermines our commitment to take high-speed rail to the north of England.
The shadow Minister talked about the importance of progressing with smart ticketing. I agree, which is why we are moving forward on that, despite the gravity of the deficit that we inherited from Labour. He also expressed repeated concerns about “user pays” provisions, and I can only repeat that it would be unacceptable if the EU sought to impose a national road-pricing scheme or local congestion-charging schemes.
The shadow Minister expressed concern about rail fares. Again, I do not propose to detain the Committee on an issue that is debated at length at Transport questions every month. To fund the extensive programme of rail improvements to which the coalition is committed, we were forced, as a result of the deficit we inherited from our predecessors, to ask passengers to pay more for a period, but we are absolutely clear that the cost of the railways has to come down. In the longer term, therefore, we want to put the era of above-inflation fare rises behind us. If we can deliver the McNulty savings, we should have the chance to do that.
Dr Huppert: Will the Minister say something about how the money from the McNulty savings might be allocated between the Treasury, lower rail fares and reinvestment? Does she agree that it would be helpful to have reduced fares and reinvestment?
Mrs Villiers: The Secretary of State has made it clear that the savings need to be shared between passengers and taxpayers. Both need a better deal, which is why it is important to pursue the McNulty savings. As for the exact split between the two, that is a decision for the future, not for today.
The shadow Minister repeated his concerns about support for electric vehicles. I can only repeat that we are maintaining generous support, including purchase grants of up to £5,000. We plan to continue support for electric vehicles until 2014. We certainly aspire to continue support after that, but such decisions, of course, depend on future spending reviews.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe expressed concern about the promotion of choices in relation to low-carbon vehicles. There is a space and a justification for Governments to promote such choices, given our aim of reducing carbon emissions and averting climate change, which would have a catastrophic effect on our country and communities. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend and I are as one on climate change, but even if he does not agree with me, I repeat that electric cars are cheaper to run than their fossil fuel equivalents and have important benefits in terms of energy security and the quality of the air that we breathe. Even for a climate change sceptic, there is a strong case to move to electric cars.
Steve Baker: I do not want to touch on the climate. My point was really that electric vehicles will not suit so many users. I appreciate that they will have a place in cities, where they will have to run only for short distances and where there are plug-in points. However, there is no way that electric vehicles will ever fulfil the needs of many of my constituents.
Mrs Villiers: I am more optimistic than my hon. Friend about the private sector’s ability to deliver a wide range of electric vehicles to suit almost all users. He is too pessimistic about what technology can deliver.
Kelvin Hopkins: May I bring some local knowledge to bear? Vauxhall and General Motors are about to produce a hybrid car with a small petrol or diesel engine, which will act as a generator when the car’s battery runs out. Such hybrid cars will drive long distances very efficiently. They will be launched in America next year.
Mrs Villiers: The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the combination of electric technology and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles expands the range of choices potentially available for consumers. Where I have sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said is on the sheer volume of Commission proposals, but I have already had a chance to share with the Committee my worry about 40 different legislative proposals. If that was the outcome of the transport white paper, I would have concerns.
I repeat the assurance that I have given my hon. Friend and his colleagues on many occasions about high-speed rail: the consultation is genuine. We will listen with great care to all the people who take part in it; in fact, we have already been working on multiple ways to improve the preferred route that we inherited from our predecessors. I am sure that that process will continue as a result of the responses that we get to the consultation.
The hon. Member for Luton North spoke, as ever, with in-depth knowledge on EU matters and transport. He is right to express concerns about the cost of the initiatives. He has pursued his comradely struggle for
I recognise the importance of rail freight, and, although the hon. Gentleman discounts the efforts made on rail freight by the Government and our Labour predecessors, it has been taken far more seriously over the past five or six years than it was for many years previously. The Government and our predecessors have given rail freight a vote of confidence. The investment programme in a strategic freight network may not be as large as the hon. Gentleman would like, but we are operating with constrained resources. An important point to bear in mind is that the projects selected for support and investment via the strategic freight network were those that the freight industry prioritised.
On the hon. Gentleman’s views about whether the EU can have a useful role in railways, I should say that the transport white paper covers proposals for a new rail package, which I have certain reservations about because it might be more important to focus on enforcing current EU rules on railways than on introducing new ones. However, we hope that something beneficial will come out of the new rail package.
I want to mention in passing something about the aviation security proposals that the Commission is looking at. We hope it will take seriously the possibility of changing EU law to extend the use of security scanners,
Lastly, I once again echo the comments of the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Luton North: the Commission, in taking forward the white paper, must place the highest priority on affordability and on ensuring that it chooses to prioritise and deliver only those initiatives that are affordable within the constraints of the current EU budget.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 8333/11 and Addenda 1-3, a White Paper: Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area—Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system; and supports the Government’s aim to ensure that the European Commission’s proposals are practical and proportionate and avoid excessive regulatory burdens on business, while respecting the principles of subsidiarity.