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Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Does the Minister agree that there is all the difference in the world between the facilitation of air traffic by better use of air traffic control systems and a more efficient Eurocontrol and the assumption by the European Union of a common European airspace? Airspace is a fundamental element of national security and of the sovereignty of individual nation states. Will he help the House to understand whether Ministers are clear in their own minds that the way in which the European Commission is developing its outlook on those matters could have a profound impact on our sovereignty and nationhood?
Mr. Raynsford: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am glad that he shares my view about the importance of continuing to work actively within Eurocontrol to develop the current arrangements and tackle some of the weaknesses. I made it clear that we do not necessarily agree with every element of the concept of the single sky for Europe. However, we want to engage in a constructive dialogue to ensure that there is effective movement across the continent as a whole.
Nothing could be more damaging both for the economic future of Europe--the United Kingdom is intimately connected with that--and for the safety of air traffic and the development of air traffic services than a failure to achieve the necessary integration when that is required, particularly in bearing down on some of the problems and pressure points in current arrangements. We shall therefore approach the matter pragmatically, but positively--engaging in Europe to improve the standard of services.
Mr. Jenkin: To pursue the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson)--I have pressed the Minister on that before--will the Minister acknowledge that if the EU becomes a member of Eurocontrol, it will acquire exclusive competence both externally and internally in all matters to do with airspace policy? When the European Commission joined the general agreement on tariffs and trade, it took control of trade talks. When it joined the international patents organisation, it took control of international patents. When it joins an international airspace management organisation, it will take over competence in airspace matters. That is the purpose of the European Union's single sky programme.
Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman confirms my fear that we would hear more of his fanciful views on the European Union's aspirations completely to take over and transform the nature of organisations. That is not the agenda. There is a straightforward proposal for the European Union to become a member of Eurocontrol. We are more than happy to discuss and consider that, and we believe that there is a general support for it. The fanciful suggestion that that will involve the total transformation of Eurocontrol's framework and of the role of individual member states is one that is lodged solely in the hon. Gentleman's wilder fantasies.
We are committed believers in Eurocontrol, but it is not beyond improvement. Indeed, the problems that we face in Europe today suggest strongly that that is the case. We are keen to see the organisation's regulatory role made quite separate from its service provision arm. Therefore, in the coming year, we shall also be working hard to secure change.
In Committee, the hon. Member for North Essex suggested that our aims were somehow at variance with Community law and Community policy, both current and prospective. The UK is a member of the European Community and bound by its treaties, legislation and case law. The Secretary of State inevitably will be bound to exercise the functions and other powers highlighted by the amendments and the new clause--and any other powers in the Bill--so as not to be inconsistent with Community law. We are satisfied that our proposals are not inconsistent with those obligations and that law.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it would be difficult if another party were to prevent the Secretary of State from taking control of assets, such as an aerodrome or aircraft, by threatening legal action under whatever pretext. He will undoubtedly see a European dimension, but this is drafted for far wider purposes--to ensure that there is the power for the Secretary of State to act in these specific circumstances without the risk of legal challenge.
Mr. Cash: I asked the Minister a simple question. Why does the word duty appear, and not function? In addition, has he read the title on the provisions on a common foreign and security policy in the Amsterdam treaty, which his Government brought into effect?
Mr. Raynsford: I feared that we would get into this kind of detailed textual analysis. The explanation that I gave was full and straightforward. We are creating a power to enable the Secretary of State to act effectively in national emergencies without the risk of challenge. That is the purpose of the proposal. There is no hidden European subtext.
Mr. Raynsford: It appears in clause 81 of this Bill. New clause 5 is designed to mirror clause 81, which gave the power to issue directions. New clause 5 gives the power to act directly to take control of assets. That is important for the reasons that I outlined, and the wording of the two clauses is totally analogous and refers to the same circumstances.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): When the Minister says that there will be no legal challenge, does he believe that anyone who presumed that the Government's actions were beyond the scope of the requirements in the European treaties would therefore be unable to take legal action?
Mr. Raynsford: This proposal is drafted with a view to protecting the national interest in a situation of emergency where it is necessary for the Government to act. That proposal was inserted to give the Secretary of State the power to act without the risk of such a challenge. There is always the possibility that someone will seek to challenge such an action, but in any case brought before
Mr. Raynsford: I suspected that the hon. Gentleman was going in that direction. I remind him of what I said earlier. The Government are clearly bound by our international treaty obligations and we must act in compliance with European law. The provisions are compatible with that, for reasons that I will explain in a moment. The fantasy conjured up by the hon. Member for North Essex in Committee, whereby the Government are unable to protect the national interest because European law takes precedence is no more than that: a fantasy.
We are a member of the European Community and will respect its legislation and case law. We are satisfied that the measures that we are taking are consistent with our obligations. Conservative Members believe that developments in Europe will inevitably lead, with or without the consent of the United Kingdom, to a situation in which our policies and practices on all matters affecting the use of airspace and the provision of air traffic services will be dictated from Brussels.
We spent a lot of time in Committee on textual analysis of the treaty of Rome, its amendments and cases taken under it dealing with Community competence in matters of national security. As I made clear then, we are satisfied that our ability under the treaty to take measures to protect national security is not impaired by the case law cited by the hon. Member for North Essex as evidence of an imminent erosion of sovereignty. The case was not proved in Committee and we provided decisive rebuttals.
It is a fact that national and international law develops over time, and I submit that to behave like Canute is not the best means of ensuring that our view on the way forward for air traffic services influences the approach taken by the Community and by Europe generally.
I make no apology for playing a full part in the current discussions on how all European Governments can best act together to meet the challenges presented by ever more crowded airspace and a plethora of service providers. The current situation cannot be sustained indefinitely and those with the most forward-looking approach to both airspace management and service provision will be those whose future is best protected. That is very much one of the guiding principles behind the PPP, and I reject wholeheartedly the case for new clause 27 and its attendant amendments.