HL Deb 23 January 1986 vol 470 cc327-8
Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, further to their Answer on 21st November (H.L. Deb. col. 654) concerning the European Commission and European airlines, they will make a statement on the decisions reached and recommendations made at the informal meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers held on 9th January.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, informal councils are intended to bring members to a closer understanding of each other's positions and cannot reach formal decisions. The meeting on 9th January, which my honourable friend the Minister for Aviation and I attended, showed that there is a growing consensus behind our efforts to secure greater efficiency and competitiveness in European air services. We again stressed our determination to achieve this and were particularly strongly supported by the European Commission.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, while accepting that the Government wish to make more speedy progress on this matter, but remembering that the European Commission said that it would intervene if the Councils of Ministers could not make necessary decisions, may I ask the Minister what action the Commission is now taking? Secondly, as the French and ourselves have recently reached the momentous agreement on the Channel Tunnel, do the Government think that this could be a spur for further and more speedy developments on air transport? Does the Minister think that we could ask the French to join with us in a special effort to reach more concrete decisions at the next meeting of the Ministers, which I believe is on 27th March?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, at the meeting in The Hague on 9th January both the commissioner for competition matters and the commissioner for transport were present in The Hague and made it clear that the Commission has now started detailed preparation of possible court cases against member states. Such cases may become essential if progress remains blocked in the council. I hope that the Commission's latest moves will persuade other member states, including France, of the urgent need for quick discussions which introduce real competition. Nothing less will do, in our view.

I can advise the noble Baroness and the House that it now looks as though the next council will be on 17th March rather than the 27th.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the noble Earl has referred to the stress on competition. Does he recall that on both the last occasion, the 21st November, and the previous occasion on which the noble Baroness put this Question—on 24th October I think it was—I stressed the need for co-ordination as well as competition, and the noble Earl agreed that that was the proper point? Does the noble Earl recall that? Was an emphasis laid on co-ordination at this council meeting as well as on competition?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I well remember what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me on both occasions. There was a general discussion; but we must proceed with competition and co-ordination at the same time. We cannot do one without the other, as the noble Lord said. But competition is the most important first step.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, can the Minister say whether at the meeting on 17th March account will be taken of what he has told us as to what the Commission is now doing, and whether we can expect further action on that point?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I think we shall have to wait and see what happens on 17th March. My understanding is that the Commission are taking matters a stage further.

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