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Ec Transport Ministers' Council

Volume 492: debated on Thursday 21 January 1988

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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 what dates have been agreed for meetings of the European Community Transport Ministers' Council in 1988, and whether they will make a statement concerning the present position of the proposal made by the European Commission to withdraw its list of exemptions to the competition rules of the Treaty of Rome.

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

My Lords, Transport Council meetings under the German Presidency have been arranged for 14th and 15th March and 20th and 21st June. There will also be an informal Council on 25th and 26th April.

During negotiation of the EC's aviation package, the Commission, with the UK's support, threatened to withdraw its proposal for transitional exemptions from the competition rules at a time when some member states were pressing for inadequate measures elsewhere in the package. The package was adopted unanimously last month and it contains the transitional exemptions.

My Lords, why do we need a list of exemptions at all? Does the Minister not agree that having a list of block exemptions attached to the competition rules of the Treaty of Rome means that the Commission will be able to challenge only on a much narrower basis any allegedly anti-competitive packaging or fare-fixing deals?

My Lords, the group exemptions to which the noble Baroness refers will be granted under Article 85·3 of the Treaty of Rome. They do not produce the scope for Commission action because they will apply only to agreements which meet the conditions for exemptions laid down in the treaty. The exemptions, which are only transitional, will expire on 31st January 1991.

My Lords, that may well be the case but I am not much further on with that matter. Does the Minister feel able to tell the House now, or to publish an Answer in the Official Report if I table a Question, the details of the list of exemptions and in what way he thinks they will benefit the Community in the proposed reforms that have been agreed?

My Lords, details of the exemptions are listed in Article 2·2 of the regulations, a copy of which has been placed in the Library of the House. Therefore the noble Baroness, and any other noble Lord, will be able to see them. The Council thought it right that the exemptions should be reviewed in three years in the light of the changed circumstances which may then exist.

My Lords, if I table a Written Question, will the Minister give the House the benefit of that information in Hansard?

My Lords, if the noble Baroness tables a Written Question of course I shall answer it.

My Lords, the Question asked about future meetings of the Transport Ministers' Council, and the Minister has kindly given dates for the next few meetings. Is the question of VAT on transport likely to be raised at those meetings? If so, what will be the Government's attitude to the possibility of VAT being levied on our transport system?

My Lords, I cannot answer that question at the moment because it is for the Presidency to table the agenda for the March Council, and that has not yet been done. It must be done 16 days in advance of the meeting.