Skip to main content

Air Transport: Ec Voting System

Volume 490: debated on Thursday 19 November 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

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 ratification of the Single European Act has extended majority voting in the European Community to air transport and, if so, what is the position concerning the delayed agreement on air capacity and market access in the Community.

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

My Lords, yes. Proposals made under Article 84 of the treaty can now be adopted by the Council of Ministers acting by qualified majority. Consequently, the current proposals on capacity and market access are now subject to this procedure.

My Lords, in view of that reply can the Minister say whether market access and air capacity will be on the agenda for the next meeting of the transport ministers' council? If so, will they be able to be decided by qualified majority voting?

My Lords, yes. We believe that the aviation package will be on the agenda on 7th December. The substance of the package was agreed unanimously in June. Intensive bilateral negotiations are continuing with Spain, aimed at resolving the Gibraltar problem. However, it was never the intention that formal adoption of the package should depend on the outcome of bilateral talks.

My Lords, the Minister did not answer my question about majority voting. Does he realise that this is a very complicated subject for us laymen? Can he tell me whether it is correct that despite ratification of the Act, should the Council of Ministers wish a matter to be decided by qualified majority voting this can be done only if the Commission agrees with what the Ministers wish to put forward? If that is true, does it not mean that it is the Commission which decides these matters and not the Council of Ministers, whatever the Ministers may wish to propose?

My Lords, no; that is not quite right. The Council of Ministers may adopt a proposal that is before it by qualified majority. Article 149 of the treaty requires unanimity if the council is to amend the Commission's proposals. If the Commission's proposals are not to be amended, they can be decided by qualified majority.

My Lords, in the light of the certainty of majority voting, can the Minister say what effect this could have on any United Kingdom policy decisions on air regulation and use of our airports? I ask that in view of the reference by the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority to the London space being overcrowded. Can any of our policies be affected by majority vote?

My Lords, I do not think that they could be affected by qualified majority voting. However, on the noble Lord's second point about capacity, the possible effect of liberalisation on the underlying trend towards larger aircraft was taken into account in the 1985 White Paper, Airports Policy. While it is true that liberalisation can tend to increase the number of aircraft used on certain routes without a proportionate increase in passengers, the ratio of passengers per air transport movement has remained stable at Heathrow over the past five years while at Gatwick the ratio has increased by 14 per cent. over the same period.

My Lords, if majority decisions are in order at this meeting, can the Minister inform the House whether the liberalisation of air fares will be a matter that can also be dealt with at the same time? When we are talking about liberalisation, apart from access we are talking about making the nonsense of the comparison of scheduled air costs which are operated by a pseudo cartel in Europe comparable with the charges made elsewhere.

My Lords, yes. I tried to indicate that the whole package that was agreed in June by the Council of Ministers but which is held up at present by the dispute with Spain is subject to qualified majority voting now; and that could happen on 7th December.

My Lords, while I am sure that the Minister is correct, perhaps I may ask whether I correctly understood what he said. If the Council of Ministers wishes a matter to be decided by qualified majority voting, and if the Commission does not approve of the proposal that the Ministers are wishing to put forward, can the Council of Ministers do that and not be overriden by the Commission demanding a unanimous decision?

My Lords, if the Council wishes to amend the Commission's proposals—which is not the case at present—it can do that only by unanimity. If it wishes to adopt the proposals which have been produced by the Commission it can do that by qualified majority voting.

My Lords, I am talking about matters proposed not by the Commission but by the Council. I am sorry I was not clear. If the Council of Ministers wishes to put up a matter to be decided by majority voting, and if the Commission does not approve of what the Council of Ministers is putting forward, is it correct that the Commission can overrule the Council and decide that the matter must be decided by unanimity and not by qualified majority voting?

My Lords, if the Commission has made or approved the proposal, the Council of Ministers can then use qualified majority voting. If, however, the Council wishes to amend or alter the Commission's proposals, that has to be decided by unanimity.

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is any truth in the article I read in the paper yesterday about his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary's discussions with the Spaniards, saying that the Spaniards would be allowed to use Gibraltar? Has he any further comment to make on the matter?

My Lords, we have been having intensive bilateral talks with the Spaniards. These are still going on. Senior officials are engaged in intensive discussions and will be talking further next week. The Foreign Secretaries meet together at the end of this month and hopefully in time for the 7th December transport council.