HC Deb 07 December 1999 vol 340 cc464-6W
Mr. Jim Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what was the outcome of the Telecommunications Council held in Brussels on 30 November; and if he will make a statement. [101168]

Ms Hewitt

I represented the UK at the Telecommunications Council on 30 November which adopted a Directive on a Common Framework for Electronic Signatures. I welcomed this as a major step forward towards clarifying the legal framework for electronic commerce.

In addition the Commission presented a number of recent Communications which were followed by preliminary exchanges of views.

In presenting the fifth report on implementation of the telecommunications regulatory package the Commission drew attention to progress towards implementation of the existing package of telecoms liberalisation legislation, and concluded that the successes of the existing regulatory framework had led to market growth with increased competition and lower tariffs. The Commission also drew attention to the remaining barriers to a single European market in telecoms, including a comparatively low level of harmonisation of Community licensing and interconnection regimes, incomplete implementation by some member states of Community cost accounting provisions, and the lack of competition in local access markets in all member states. Member states approved this general analysis.

There was a first debate on the Commission Communication on the review of the regulatory framework for electronic communications. In presenting the Communication the Commission summarised its approach to the review of the regulatory package which would apply to all electronic communications systems and said it would report on the outcome of its public consultation in April before making legislative proposals in May. In the following debate all member states recognised the need for swift action in the face of the pace of technological change, and simplification of the regulatory framework. A number, including the UK, stressed the need for a flexible framework with a minimum of regulation. I emphasised that strengthening competition in the market for communications services is vital to produce an environment in which e-commerce can flourish in Europe, and welcomed the Commission's recognition that regulation should be on a co-regulatory basis with business where possible. The Council adopted Conclusions endorsing the Commission's principles for the new regulatory framework as set out in its Communication.

The Commission also presented its Communication on the results of its public consultation on its Green Paper on radio spectrum policy. The Commission summarised the outcome of its consultation and the areas in which it indicated future legislative proposals. There was no discussion of the Communication: the Presidency concluded that the Council noted the Commission's intentions which would require further study when specific legislative proposals emerged in 2000.

There was also a debate on the information society of the future and how to build trust and create effective rules for electronic commerce. The Commission will produce guidelines on the use of self-regulation in this area for discussion at the Information Society meeting in Lisbon in April 2000.

The Council also noted, without discussion, the Commission Communication on implementation of Directive 97/47/EC on advanced TV standards. The

Applicant Project
Professor I. G. Priede Aberdeen Autonomous Marine Environment Research Stations (AutoMERS)
Professor P. St. J. Russell Bath Photonic Crystal Fibres: Fabrication, Technology and Applications
Professor H. R. Saibil Birkbeck Equipment and Refurbishment for Electron Cryomicroscopy and Protein Crystallography
Professor M. N. R. Ashfold Bristol Materials, Physical and Computational Chemistry for the 21st Century
Professor R. J. Mair Cambridge Centre for Geotechnical Process and Construction Modelling
Professor D. M. Glover Cambridge Cell Biology and Drosophilia Research in the Cambridge University Genetics Department
Professor Sir John Gurdon Cambridge Relocation and upgrading of Wellcome CRC Institute
Professor P. Sissons Cambridge Biology and Pathogenesis of Virus Infections
Professor T. W. Robbins Cambridge Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience
Professor D. G. Crighton Cambridge Centre for Mathematical Sciences
Professor A. J. Moses Cardiff Production, Evaluation and Applications of Advanced Soft Magnetics Materials and Devices
Professor A. I. Lamond Dundee Dundee Centre for High Resolution Imaging in Cell and Molecular Biology
Professor R. W. Richards Durham Multi-disciplinary Condensed Matter Chemistry
Professor T. D. Jickells UEA Laboratory for Global Marine and Atmospheric Chemistry
Dr. K. J. Heywood UEA Sampling Equipment for the UK Marine, Physics and Chemistry Community
Professor R. D. Kenway Edinburgh A World-Leading Computing Facility for Simulations of the Strong Interaction
Professor P. J. Sadler Edinburgh Edinburgh Protein Interaction Centre (EPIC)
Professor N. P. Franks ICSTM General Anaesthesia: From Molecular Actions to Neuronal Pathways
Professor M. Van Heel ICSTM An Integrated Multi-Disciplinary Centre for Solving Biopolymer Structures
Professor P. McGuffin KCL (Institute of Psychiatry) The Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Research Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry
Professor M. B. Steer Leeds Microwave and Millimetre-Wave Design and Instrumentation Facility
Dr. M. C. Bell Leeds Leeds Health Air Pollution, Noise, Health and Emissions Research Network (LANTERN)
Professor P. K. H. Maguire Leicester The Acquisition of Seismic Recording Systems to study "Rifting Processes: Inception, Transition and Spreading"
Professor P. P. Allport Liverpool The Liverpool Semiconductor Detector Centre

Commission also provided an oral update on member states' preparation for the Millennium Bug in energy, transport and other fields.