HL Deb 09 June 1994 vol 555 cc1322-4

3.34 p.m.

Lord Greenway asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether they have received any indication from the Spanish authorities as to when they will permit the British company Cenargo to introduce a ferry service between Spain and Morocco as entitled to under the terms of EC Regulation 4055/86.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, we have not yet received an indication that Spain recognises Cenargo's right to operate its proposed service; but we shall continue to press the matter with the Spanish Government and with the Commission, which has the responsibility of enforcing this legislation.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Will the Government redouble their efforts with the Commission to open infraction proceedings against Spain under Article 169 and stick rigidly to the timetable of those proceedings? Further, what action do they propose to take if, at the end of the process, Spain continues to procrastinate in this disgraceful way?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I can confirm that we have been actively encouraging the Commission to start the infraction proceedings by issuing an Article 169 letter. If they do not do so by Monday we intend to raise the matter at the Transport Council's Ministers' meeting in Brussels then.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Spanish Government have now withdrawn their ban on the steamer service between Algeciras and Gibraltar?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, that is quite a different question. We are answering a Question about the ferry service between Morocco and southern Spain. I shall need notice of my noble friend's question.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have a vested interest in trying to ensure that this regulation, which I helped to negotiate, is complied with? Is the Minister further aware of the defence which is purported to be offered by Spain to what, on the face of it, seems to be the clearest possible breach of the regulations? Will he also ensure that steps are taken forthwith—that is to say, today—to ensure that the Commission does comply with its obligations and issues an Article 169 letter before Monday? To leave it to the last moment would be a serious matter indeed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that we are actively pursuing this matter. I raised the question yesterday in Athens with the Greek shipping minister who will chair the Council. We have given the Commission an indication that we intend to raise this subject on Monday if we are still awaiting the letter. I hope that we shall not have to raise it.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, in view of the fact that this action by the Spanish Government has cost the British company a good deal of money, is there any prospect of the Spanish Government compensating that company when the decision is finally made in its favour?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I understand that the company has in fact launched claims for damages against the Spanish Government in the Spanish courts. The question of damages will be a matter for the company to pursue and for the Spanish courts to decide.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in the event of it becoming necessary for the Government to raise this matter at the next Council meeting, can we have the Minister's assurance that it will be raised vigorously and not in dulcet tones?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I believe that I can give the noble Lord an assurance that the matter will indeed be raised just as vigorously as he raises matters in this House.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if Spain's action is not halted at the earliest opportunity, other European Union countries will be persuaded to take similar action?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. This is a test of the single market in shipping which, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, indicated, he helped to negotiate. We believe that if the Spanish are not forced to agree to open up the market and to allow Cenargo to sail, that will cast doubt on the whole question of a single market in shipping services.