HL Deb 11 March 1987 vol 485 cc1128-9WA
Baroness Burton of Coventry

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will set out the text of the letter dated 25th February 1987, from Lord Brabazon of Tara to her on the subject of European Community air transport negotiations.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

The text of the letter was as follows:

"I promised to write to you setting out as clearly as possible the complicated position on qualified majority voting in the air transport sector; and on ratification of the Single European Act.

"To take voting first, the present position is that, as regards transport issues, qualified majority voting applies for everything except aviation and shipping. That is because 'inland' transport issues are covered by Article 75 of the Treaty, whereas aviation and shipping are covered by Article 84, which stipulates that decisions in the Council require unanimity. I am attaching a table showing how 'qualified majority' (in other words, 'weighted') voting actually works.

"Under the normal rules of the Treaty, all areas which are subject to qualified majority voting can only in fact be decided in this way if the Commission is content with what the qualified majority of the Council wish to do. If the Commission believes that the Council is about to take a misguided decision, it can, in effect, require the Council to continue to act only by unanimity (Article 149 of the Treaty).

"Applying these principles to air transport, the position is that regulatory (or deregulatory) measures which fall purely into the air transport sector, and are therefore put forward by the Commission under Article 84, currently require unanimity in the Council. Once the Single European Act becomes effective, such measures will be capable of being decided by qualified majority voting, provided the Commission is content. The proposals which fall into this category are those concerning air fares, capacity and market access.

"A different situation pertains for all matters of EC Competition law, be they concerned with air transport, or any other sector. These matters fall under Article 87 of the Treaty, and, as that Article says, they have always been capable of decisions by qualified majority in the Council.

"As you know, it is the essence of the present negotiations that all the elements form a package. Not only will no one element—for example, liberalisation of regulations governing faresbe effective without comparable measures in the other fields: there is also a question of political realities. A large majority of other member states wish to be certain of the position of their respective airlines, under EC competition law, before they will finally agree to the liberalisation measures to which we, the Dutch, the Irish and the Commission attach so much importance. It is thus impossible in practice to envisage voting on the competition regulation, under Article 87, separately from the rest of the package, which, as I say, for the present requires unanimity.

"The Single European Act will change all of this by making qualified majority voting possible for all elements in the package. As I said when we met, this has possible drawbacks as well as benefits, and a great deal depends on the attitude of the Commission to whatever package is favoured by a majority of the Council.

"As far as implementation of the Act is concerned, all Member States except the Irish have, as you know, now ratified it. The previous Irish government signed the Act, and the new Government has indicated it will ratify when it can. For the present, the Irish Supreme Court is considering whether it is constitutionally proper for the Irish Government to do so. The Court is expected to take several more weeks. If it decides in the Irish Government's favour, the way to ratification would be clear, and the Act would become effective on the first day of the following month. If, on the other hand, the Court were to decide against the Irish government, our understanding is that they would need to hold a referendum, which would take up to two months longer. Either way, however, there is every likelihood that the Act will be effective before the Transport Council meeting planned for 24–25th June.

"I hope this provides you with the full explanation of the position which you asked for."