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, following the meeting of the European Community Transport Ministers' Council held on 26th October, agreement was reached on a total package covering air capacity and market access; and whether they will make a statement indicating the support being given to the unilateral action proposed by British Airways to hasten the liberalisation of air transport in Europe.
My Lords, the 26th October council was cancelled because there was an insufficient number of items ready for discussion. The next Transport Council is scheduled for 7th December.As far as the British Airways action is concerned, the Government welcome this as a step in the right direction.
My Lords, as the Minister said last week that the most important thing to do was to get the aviation package on the council agenda as soon as possible, does he agree that the cancellation of meetings is hardly the best way of bringing this about? Does he realise that the House will hear with astonishment that the council did not have enough matters to discuss to hold the meeting on the 26th? May we expect, as we are certainly entitled to do, some definite action on 7th December?With regard to British Airways, apart from the appreciation of the initiative taken, can the Minister give any indication as to whether, if the airline runs into difficulties with other member states following the termination of commercial agreements, the Government will give every help possible?
My Lords, yes. Regarding the cancellation of 26th October council, we first need to resolve the dispute with Spain over Gibraltar Airport. Bilateral talks aim at resolving this issue by the time the UK and Spanish Foreign Ministers meet on 30th November. Secondly, a further opinion on the package is awaited from the European Parliament and it has been asked to produce that in time for the 7th December council.On the second point of the noble Baroness, the Government have always accepted that the competition rules of the Treaty of Rome apply to air transport and we shall continue to do all we can to ensure their proper application. We therefore take the view that any member state that seeks to maintain an obligation on Community airlines to agree upon or even consult with one another about tariffs is incompatible with that state's obligations under the treaty.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the Question of the noble Baroness referred to the desirability of an agreement, a total package, covering air capacity and market access? In view of that and of the question which I put to the Minister when the noble Baroness put her Question on 22nd October, and in the light of the Minister's reply, do the Government propose to have discussions with the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority as a result of his statement about the necessity to look elsewhere for air space?
My Lords, we are obviously in constant touch with the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. There is very little that I can add to what I said last week on the subject. We are very keen to get this package through and very much hope that it will go through by the end of the year.
My Lords, perhaps I may rise to ask a question again. If the package involves a diversity of traffic to different airports in this country or increased night flying, surely that ought to be discussed in advance.
My Lords, I do not accept that there will necessarily be that much pressure on air space as a result of the adoption of the package. There is still capacity to spare in the South-East. There is also capacity available elsewhere in the country.
My Lords, I believe that I heard the Minister say that he welcomed the initiatives of British Airways. Will he encourage other air companies to follow the lead of British Airways? Can he see any connection with the action of British Airways and the current consideration of the merger with BCal?
My Lords, with regard to other airlines, it was British Airways that was taken to court, so to speak, by the Commission over this matter, as well as British Caledonian. All the other airlines were foreign so that it did not apply to any other UK airlines.On the merger proposals, noble Lords will have to wait until my noble friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry makes his mind up on the issue in the middle of next month.