HC Deb 26 June 1991 vol 193 cc473-4W
Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what was the outcome of the meeting of the European Community Transport Council on 20–21 June.

Mr. Rifkind

I attended the first day of the meeting of the European Council of Transport Ministers which was held in Luxembourg on 20 and 21 June. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic was present on the second day.

I am extremely pleased with the progress made at the Council, especially the agreements reached both on the development of Community railways and the need for safer design of vehicles.

The railways agreement is an important step towards liberalisation, allowing access by individual rail companies to the railway systems of other member states for the purpose of international combined transport operations. It will encourage greater use of rail freight services thus acting to alleviate congestion on roads. The Commission reported that its work on the combined transport network was progressing well and a report should be produced by the end of the year. A regulation was agreed, providing for the replacement of public service obligations, in the public transport sector, by public service contracts. The amended regulation will bring greater transparency to dealings between governments and transport undertakings, particularly railways.

Other inland transport matters discussed included transit and international road passenger transport. Ministers agreed that the Commission's mandate to conduct transit negotiations with Austria and Switzerland should be extended indefinitely, with a view to obtaining further concessions. The Council approved in principle a draft transit agreement with Yugoslavia.

I reiterated the United Kingdom's strongly held view that concrete progress is needed on international road passenger transport; the matter will be further considered in the Committee of Permanent Representatives and I hope to be able to report progress as a result of the next Council.

A number of air transport issues were covered by the Council. There was a debate on which airlines should be included in the list of Community air cargo carriers, which forms an annex of the EC air cargo regulation. The Commission informed member states of its intention to have informal discussions with third countries on air cargo. On the question of state subsidies to the airline industry, a Commission report was promised in the near future, while the proposal on technical requirements in aviation was referred back to the Committee of Permanent Representatives for further consideration and finalisation.

Moving on to the marine sector, agreement was reached on a revised presidency compromise on inland waterway cabotage, with a decision on derogations for the new German Länder. There was a disappointing lack of progress on maritime cabotage liberalisation despite the clear treaty obligation for liberalisation to be agreed, and implemented, as part of the completion of the single market. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic announced that the United Kingdom was withdrawing from the Loran C negotiations, partly because of the uncertainty of concluding an agreement within the time scale the United Kingdom had set for a proper transition, and partly because a more competitive offer has been received from the Racal electronics group to update its existing Decca system.

The Council adopted a directive on roadworthiness tests for cars which will help to ensure that vehicles throughout Europe are maintained to safe standards. A resolution on road safety, asking the Commission to draw up a report outlining a Community road safety strategy, which should include measures on vehicle standards and equipment, was also adopted. Agreement in principle was reached on the driving licences directive which will provide for mutual recognition of driving licences throughout the Community and harmonisation of driving test standards in member states. The directive will enter into force in 1996.

Some progress was made on the seat belts directive and the Committee of Permanent Representatives will consider it further with a view to a decision later this year.

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