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 they will make a statement on the recent decision of the European Court of Justice that government control of air fares within the EC was illegal; and whether it has been possible for the Commission to make progress in their detailed preparation of possible court cases against member states in view of the cancellation of the meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers due to have been held on 5th May.
My Lords, while the recent decision of the European Court of Justice in the French tariffs cases helpfully confirms that the competition rules of the treaty apply to air transport, it does not suggest that government approval procedures for air fares are illegal. I understand that the Commission is awaiting the outcome of the 18th June Transport Council before deciding what further steps it may wish to take.
My Lords, I know that the Minister wishes to help, and I do not doubt the good faith of the Government on this matter. However, concerning the Answer that he has just given, is he aware that I have a Question down for 26th June, and that perhaps with that Question we may get a definition of the decision referred to? Referring to the Question on the Order Paper today, does the Minister realise that I asked him whether any further progress had been made in the detailed preparation of possible court cases, of which we were told originally on 23rd January? Can the Minister enlighten us on that point?
My Lords, I appreciate the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, is trying to help the Government in this matter, and in turn I shall do my best to help the noble Baroness. What the Commission said was that unless there was satisfactory progress in the council by June, it would itself take steps to apply the competition rules of the treaty. We must therefore await the outcome of the 18th June council. We shall of course do what we can to speed up things, but, as I say, it is for the Commission to decide what steps it may wish to take.
My Lords, in view of the fact that many of the member states obey the Commission rulings as and when it suits them will the noble Viscount give the House an assurance that the rights of the United Kingdom are thoroughly protected?
My Lords, I can certainly give that assurance.
My Lords, I am obliged to the Minister for his reply. It shows what one can do by a little co-operation. May I ask the noble Viscount whether he is aware that Mr. Spicer, at a recent conference in Manchester, said that if real competition in European air services could not be achieved by negotiation, the United Kingdom would be compelled to take the matter to the European Court? In view of his answer may we assume that after 1st July, when we have assumed the presidency of the EC, matters will then move speedily?
My Lords, I am hopeful that when we assume the presidency matters will proceed even faster than they are going at the moment. We already have liberal bilateral agreements with the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, West Germany and Switzerland, and we are continuing our efforts to secure similar arrangements with other countries. We have not been standing absolutely still.
My Lords, reverting to the question of the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite, would my noble friend the Minister agree that while the rights of this country are of course of supreme importance they do not include, or embrace, any violations of the rule of law?
My Lords, I should like to say that that is outside the scope of the Question.
My Lords, the noble Viscount referred to the important meeting to be held, I think he said, later this month, following which the Government will decide their own actions. Can we be assured that a Statement will be made on this important issue?
My Lords, I understand that a Statement will be made after the council meeting on 18th June.
My Lords, will the noble Viscount inform his noble friend Lord Broxbourne that he may have his rights under Article 177 of the European treaty, and have his own case stated?
My Lords, I do not think I need to; he has just been informed.